Scheming, betrayal and double-dealing abound in Writer-Director J Blakeson’s kidnapping thriller “The Disappearance of Alice Creed.” And if nothing in the plot seems particularly fresh, Blakeson’s film is still admirable enough for its stylish efficiency and crackerjack performances. The film gets off the blocks rapidly in a series of workmanlike and economical set-ups, cut together with no-nonsense editing, as kidnappers Vic (Eddie Marson) and Danny (Martin Compston) capture the daughter – the Alice Creed of the title – of a well-known multi-millionaire, and whisk her away, tied up and gagged, to their hideout apartment in the desolate outskirts.
Vic and Danny’s plan is to keep Alice alive (Genna Arterton) while they demand and arrange for a substantial ransom from her father. But don’t expect to see tense standoffs or shouting matches over telephones; such histrionics are by now tiresome and all-too-familiar. Thankfully, Blakeson’s script keeps them off-screen and irrelevant to the drama at hand.
The script’s focus lies in its secrets: Vic and Danny are in cahoots but Danny has an ulterior motive for the kidnapping. Indeed, Danny is the pivot on whom all of “Disappearance’s” secrets revolve: His familiarity with Alice, for instance, goes beyond merely having suggested her as their target. And while she and Danny share a private trust, Alice is, in fact, only one component in Danny’s triangle of duplicitous intimacy. Sexual politics figure prominently in “Disappearance’s” mind games and give a fresh twist to the well-known device of positing schemes above schemes as each character goes about turning the tables in his or her favor.
It’s not so much the duplicities themselves, but the relish with which Blakeson exploits his story’s hothouse atmospherics: A stand-out scene in which Danny tries to keep Vic from noticing a stray bullet shell while the latter spoon feeds a bowl of soup to their captive demonstrates the director’s penchant for suspenseful pacing, editing, and even sound as what we largely hear is the quickening clink of the spoon and the gulps of soup. This is effective, old-school filmmaking in which the fundamentals of the form are brought out from the cinematic toy box and cranked up again effectively enough as to evoke the classical masters (even The Master of Suspense himself).
What nags about Blakeson’s project, though, is its all-too-clever shape, one in which all the pieces are too precisely timed and fitted into place. It’s the by-plays between Danny and Alice, Danny and Vic and, finally, Vic and Alice, that drive much of the intrigue in the script, each occurring in an order and with an outcome designed to optimize audience reaction. “Disappearance” eventually becomes so manic and preoccupied by what it must hide and reveal that Blakeson’s contrivances eventually become a tad too conspicuous.
Thanks to a trio of terrific performances, however, the script’s weaknesses are smoothed over. Arterton plays Alice with a compelling mix of humor and feisty resilience opposite Compston’s suggestible but ultimately venal Danny. It’s Marsan, though, who commands most of our attention, portraying Vic as a tortured soul, driven by more than money. By turns, vulnerable and dangerous, Vic is what keeps us rooted and invested in the film’s machinations. Blakeson is clearly a talent to watch, a filmmaker versed in the elementals of style and of the noir form, and he’d be lucky to nab Marsan again should he wish to continue his explorations of the crime saga.
Directed by: J Blakeson
Written by: J Blakeson
Cast: Genna Arterton, Martin Compston, Eddie Marsan