“The Disappearance of Alice Creed” begins with a vigorous montage of two men who are clearly up to no good. They line a transit van with plastic, buy a drill and a mattress, assemble a bed in a small apartment and staple foam insulation to the walls.
With everything in place, they venture outside again, dragging a young woman from a posh neighborhood off the streets and into the van, which transports her, bound, gagged, and hooded, back to the apartment that now doubles as her prison.
These events could easily serve as the prelude to any number of scenarios, none of them pretty. The route taken by writer-director J. Blakeson, making his feature debut, is thankfully not as ugly as one might fear. But it’s not altogether wonderful, either. Being confined in a single room for almost 100 minutes with two highly agitated kidnappers and a freaked-out heiress is not a surefire prescription for a good time.
It helps that Blakeson makes the confinement somewhat less claustrophobia-inducing than I feared. He does this primarily by focusing our attention on the actors, not their surroundings. And it’s fortunate that at least one of the actors, Eddie Marsan, who plays Vic, is first-rate.
Vic and Danny (Martin Compston), 20 years his junior, are ex-cons who have been meticulously planning this crime. Now that it’s operational, their machinations have a split-second ferocity.
Vic is the martinet of these maneuvers. Danny, for reasons that later become obvious, is more haphazard. (There are a number of big switcheroos in the plot.) Their kidnap-for-ransom scheme is purely pragmatic: Working-class stiffs, they want the money to live a “good” life. Their capture of the young woman, Alice Creed (Gemma Arterton, who was Jake Gyllenhaal’s love interest in “The Prince of Persia”), is nothing personal. It is her wealth they covet, not her.
Most of the film’s violence is verbal. Vic spends most of his time spitting out orders, and when things go awry, as they always do in “perfect crime” movies, he seems in danger of splitting apart from rage. But Marsan, who is probably best remembered by American audiences as the unhinged cab driver from Mike Leigh’s “Happy Go Lucky,” isn’t a one-note actor. Particularly near the end, when Vic’s feelings for Danny come through, Marsan brings us into a close sympathy with this ex-con and his dreams of a better life.
If Alice had simply been a victim throughout, the film might have quickly devolved into one long sadistic slog. But her determination to escape makes her less of a victim and more of a heroine, and it also eradicates her spoiled-little-rich-girl sheen.
None of these virtues quite adds up to very much in the end. For all its craft and smarts, “The Disappearance of Alice Creed” is essentially a hard-boiled melodrama with high-toned pretensions. It wants to be a movie about the intersection between criminality and the class system but, for that, it could have used a bit more class. Grade: B- (Rated R for violent content, pervasive language, and some sexuality/nudity.)
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