Holy Smoke

***1/2

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Kate Winslet is miscast. She is too bright, too good, too articulate. Her screen family are caricatures of lower-middle-class Sydney suburbanites, barely dressed in summer, hardly capable of conversation.

Essentially the movie is a two-hander. Winslet plays Ruth, who is tricked into leaving an ashram in India, where she belongs to the inner circle of a charismatic guru, to return home. Harvey Keitel is PJ Waters, the best known (and most expensive) deprogrammer of religious brainwashing techniques.

PJ is hired by the awful family to turn Ruth back into Bar-B-Q Girlie. He says, give me three days alone with her. They go to a hut in the outback. Ruth insults him. He listens, talks, lets her rage. "I am a cynic," he says. "I investigate crap."

The battle of wills is lost when he kisses her. She knows she's won and torments him with her body. Isolation exaggerates the intensity. She isn't certain what she thinks, or feels anymore. She is in that transitional place between need and desire. He, on the other hand, knows exactly what he wants and it doesn't figure in any professional code of conduct manual.

Jane Campion sets herself high standards (The Piano, The Portrait Of A Lady, An Angel At My Table). To say that Holy Smoke feels less of a whole than her previous work is not to dismiss it. In her first feature film, Sweetie, she created another awful family, only worse, with more satirical bite and a darker undertow. She didn't have a serene, sensual English actress in the title role.

Keitel allows PJ to capitulate too fast. The deprogramming needs more time. Otherwise, it looks silly. Winslet is miscast, because she is unforgivably wonderful, when she should have been rough and unready.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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A man who reprogrammes cult victims meets his match in an Aussie from an ashram.
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Director: Jane Campion

Writer: Anna Campion, Jane Campion

Starring: Kate Winslet, Harvey Keitel, Pam Grier, Julie Hamilton, Sophie Lee

Year: 1999

Runtime: 114 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: Australia

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