Eye Of The Beholder

on January 28, 2000 by Wade Major
As it slithers under the skin and behind the brain, "Eye of the Beholder" works a brand of guileful magic rarely seen in movies today--courageously blurring the line between its characters' inner conflicts and outer lives to create a disturbingly hypnotic odyssey not unlike Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo" or Brian DePalma's "Obsession." Such comparisons, however, only scratch the surface of what will almost certainly become one of 1999's most debated films--a study of obsession that is, ultimately, far more preoccupied with psychology than plot.
   Based on Marc Behm's novel of the same name, "Eye of the Beholder" centers on a British Secret Service surveillance expert known simply as The Eye (Ewan McGregor), a strange loner whose only connection to reality seems to be through his arsenal of high-tech gizmos and gadgets. Abandoned by his wife and small daughter eight years prior, he now lives an isolated, unsettled life. Even his superiors only communicate with him electronically, enabling him to live a life of near total anonymity and isolation. But the lifestyle has not been psychologically healthy--he frequently imagines his daughter at his side, conversing with the specter as though she were real. There's even a question as to whether or not he's conjuring the right girl as he struggles to remember which face in an old class photo is hers.
   Enter a new assignment--a mysterious woman named Joanna (Ashley Judd), suspected of blackmailing the son of an American Senator. At first, The Eye treats the surveillance like any other job; but something about Joanna is different. Though wily and undeniably lethal, she often seems more a tormented victim of circumstance than the black widow she is alleged to be.
   From here, the film takes a series of increasingly surreal turns as Joanna takes sudden flight, sprinting into a cross-continental pilgrimage, searching not so much for a physical destination as for an elusive state of mind. Remarkably, The Eye keeps pace with her tricks, driven by an obsession, a love, a determination to protect her, even if it means abandoning his job and sacrificing his very life to do it.
   It comes as something of a welcome surprise that the choreographer of this enigmatic psycho-sexual dance should be none other than Australian writer/director Stephan Elliott ("The Adventures of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert"), a filmmaker heretofore best known for his stylized, offbeat comedies. Elliott's achievement here, however, is totally unexpected--a mature, complex and often harrowing character study of two equally disturbed individuals that is often anything but funny. It should be noted, however, that for all its effulgent style and dazzling technique, "Eye of the Beholder" is first and foremost an actor's piece, a highly internalized drama that extracts the very best from both Judd and McGregor. That they share so little actual screen time together makes the strength of the chemistry all the more remarkable. Starring Ewan McGregor, Ashley Judd, k.d. lang, Jason Priestley, Genvieve Bujold and Patrick Bergen. Directed and written by Stephan Elliot. Produced by Tony Smith and Nicolas Clermont. A Destination release. Thriller. Rated R for some strong violence, sexuality, language and brief drug content. Running time: 110 min.
Tags: Starring Ewan McGregor, Ashley Judd, k.d. lang, Jason Priestley, Genvieve Bujold and Patrick Bergen. Directed and written by Stephan Elliot, Produced by Tony Smith, Nicolas Clermont, Destination, Thriller

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