MY COUSIN RACHEL review by Rahul Vedantam – Rachel Weisz commands a classic-style thriller

MY COUSIN RACHEL review by Rahul Vedantam – Rachel Weisz commands a classic-style thriller

MY COUSIN RACHEL is not a common movie to see in the box office these days. A period mystery-romance lacking any A-list names to drive the project. Based on the novel of the same name by Daphne du Maurier, it’s an achievement simply in production… and for that, it gets a seal of approval despite its average quality. This film delves into deeper and darker places than you’d expect out of a non-horror, but a true terror does lie underneath. With such a unique and interesting tone, the film easily fulfills the check marks of a captivating story, but lacks anything to really push it beyond that into noteworthiness. Clocking in at short 106 minutes, and with so much plot to tell, there is a dearth of time for any strong emotions to brew.

Young Philip (Sam Claflin) is shattered when his cousin Ambrose passes away. Cared for by her since his parents passed away as a child, he once again feels a similar sensation of abandonment. However, his despair is only matched his by anger at Rachel (Rachel Weisz), another cousin who won Ambrose’s heart after decades of bachelordom, but who was also accused by her late husband (in a series of secret correspondence) of poisoning him. But never attached to his will, and with nothing to gain from his death, the family lawyer Kendall (Iain Glen) is satisfied with Rachel’s innocence, but Philip continues to seethe and is determined to use her visit to Ambrose’s estate, where he is now master, to find out the truth. Unexpectedly, when Rachel arrives, she upends Phillip’s expectations of her. He falls for her in the woman’s strength, beauty, and individualism.

Rachel’s character is a monument to powerful women, and the entire film carries tones of feminism as the plot moves forward. Philip, in contrast, displays a naïve innocence towards women in total, and his desire to protect a woman who needs no protection offers the movies best interplay. The back and forth as he vainly tries to win her heart, and her deft dance around his intentions, is great fun to watch. When Philip says, “I’ve never seen a woman cry,” it’s a statement that reveals as much about his mystification of the female experience, as it does his motivation to risk everything, he must try and ensure Rachel’s enduring comfort and partnership. These insights are wonderfully evoked in the script by writer and director Roger Michell, however you do wish they had cooked at a higher temperature.

The sharp edges of these interactions are often softened by the film’s obligation to period picture conventions, and are further rendered dull by the slack pacing. Equally troubling is that “My Cousin Rachel” must continually shift to the mystery brewing in the background, which is never all that compelling, and mostly conveyed with intensely shot scenes of Rachel making her terrible tasting tisanes.

Rachel Weisz is also easily the best actress on the screen and her ability provide depth a nuance to a character is cut to the side when the film tries to focus on its mystery. Rachel is both extremely strong and weak to a point and Weisz conveys that. Claflin is also a treat, bringing a reality to the pendulum of his emotions. Whether it is deep love or unending rage towards the same person, he is able to display both at the same time. This is also a crux of the film, as his immaturity allows drama to unfold. But despite all this, the whodunnit is way dryer than it should be, and it takes up way too much time on screen. The undertones and characters of the film can’t make up for multiple obvious red herrings and lackluster pacing. With a little bit of spice this film could have been great. As it is, it is still an achievement on the part of the actors and the characters.

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