Movie Review: Lizzie
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Director: Craig William Macneill
Writer: Bryce Kass
by Jason Koenigsberg
Everything was there on the screen! The sets, the props, the costumes all exquisite. Terrific actresses Kristen Stewart and Chloe Sevigny occupying the lead roles. Everything was there to make Lizzie a modern crime thriller classic of a notorious American murder. Alas, behind the scenes must have been a mess. Or the director, writer, editor, and others involved were not ready to take on such a production. Most likely it was the former. Craig William Macneill has only directed one previous feature film, The Boy (2015), and that little horror films B-movie charms are very different than what was required to make this true crime murder tale come alive and attempt to be a topical allegory about women’s repression for the #MeToo movement. Lizzie ends up as a feeble attempt at being culturally relevant and as a movie itself, it flounders with banal dialogue and wooden performances.
Blame should go to the director since he had the talented Academy Award nominee Chloe Sevigny in the lead role and Kristen Stewart who should have earned an Academy Award nomination for her role in Personal Shopper (2016) carrying the movie. The stoic delivery of their lines made their scenes deadpan instead of compelling. After the title flashes on a black screen, we see the back of Lizzie Borden’s head walking from inside a dark room to a bright backyard where we see Kristen Stewart vigorously scrubbing a window. It is then we learn that a murder just took place and from there the film jumps back and chronicles the six months of the Borden family and their housemaid Bridget Sullivan (Stewart) leading up to the murders.
Lizzie is weak from a technical standpoint as well, once again shame on the director who was in way over his head. The cinematography was all over the place. Some lighting in certain scenes were too dark, others were way too bright and overexposed, especially the final shot which took away from any powerful emotion the film was trying to dramatize. Some scenes looked old-fashioned as if they were using only natural light, other scenes looked very modern and shot on digital. Most annoying is when some scenes in the house had this ugly orange hue that was difficult to look at. This was cinematography101 at its worst. Just pick a lighting scheme and stick with it.
Often when a movie feels like it is going nowhere, one might ask themselves, “what is the point of this?” I found myself asking that question during Lizzie. She grew up with a cruel and overbearing father, came from wealth and wanted to kill him for his money, or for the psychological damage he caused, or both. The Lizzie Borden in Lizzie is an unsympathetic and mentally unstable lesbian and not much else. That is the only real insight into her character.
A famous American murderer is stuck in a movie that seemed to just transition from one scene to the next with no sense of a purpose other than a few attempts to tie into #MeToo but failed to be relevant to modern America because in the end Lizzie is not as memorable as the real-life crimes that inspired it. Nor is it as memorable as the allegations of sexual assault that inspired the movement to give women a voice against powerful men. Lizzie is just there for two hours, not really doing much or saying much that we do not already know.
Skip Lizzie and watch Kristen Stewart give a much better performance in Personal Shopper, the best role of her career thus far.