For their first on-screen partnership since Mr & Mrs Smith a decade ago, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie team up for this period drama about a strained marriage, written and directed by Mrs Jolie Pitt herself. It's made on a lavish scale, with achingly beautiful locations and costumes, plus references to classics from Plein Soleil to Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. But none of that can hide the fact that this is a stilted, contrived movie about two loathsome people we wouldn't want to spend five minutes with, let alone two very long hours.
It's the mid-1970s on the Mediterranean coast in southern France, and Americans Roland and Vanessa (Pitt and Jolie) descend into an isolated cove for a getaway to rescue their collapsing relationship. A novelist, Roland is also trying to snap out of writer's block, so he explores local village and chats with cafe owner Michel (Niels Arestrup) for inspiration. Meanwhile, Vanessa prowls around their vast suite in a grand villa perched on the edge of the sea, latching onto the newlywed couple (Melvil Poupaud and Melanie Laurent) in the room next door. But something deeply damaging has happened between Roland and Vanessa, and spying on this couple through a hole in the wall only offers a vague sense of mutual gratification. What they really need to do is confront the elephant in their own room.
Pitt and Jolie always seem aware that a camera is on them, striking poses and blurting their dialogue in ways that never feel remotely honest. Their simplistic reactions to whatever happened in their past (Roland's booze and Vanessa's rage) are never properly explored, so the characters wind up being utterly superficial. And this leaves everything from their big mood swings to their moments of quiet tenderness feeling rather pointless. By contrast, the French actors invest an easy authenticity to their much smaller roles, grounding the setting with an earthiness that only makes Roland and Vanessa look even more alien.
Continue reading: By The Sea Review
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