Completed before 2010’s “Mysteries of Lisbon” but only now arriving Stateside, the late Raul Ruiz’s “Blind Revenge” reps an interesting case of one of cinema’s most distinctive filmmakers functioning in a commercial vein, and not shorting fans of his signature style and obsessions. Gilbert Adair’s adaptation of his novel “A Closed Book” pits a blind art critic against his amanuensis in his English castle, but the resulting game of cat-and-mouse will make more noise in ancillary than in this limited theatrical window.
This is minor Ruiz, but an essential title for completists, as well as those who may be curious what Daryl Hannah and the great but rarely seen Tom Conti have been up to recently. The combo of these three talents seems odd on paper, but for the most part, it works.
Ruiz and Conti are particularly in synch as they craft the character of a memorably contradictory and colorful writer, Paul, who’s willfully isolated himself from modern civilization after being blinded and badly scarred in a car crash in Thailand (Steve Painter’s prosthetics create a startling effect). Paul is close cousin to innumerable Ruiz characters, some of them intensely, even madly literary, and Adair’s sense of the gothic similarly lines up well with Ruiz’s long-standing love of the genre.
Paul’s initial interview with Jane (Hannah), applying for a secretary job, is cunningly shot and paced, almost Pinteresque in its mood of domestic danger. Yet the bar here isn’t quite that high, and Adair’s writing functions more in the manner of Anthony Shaffer’s “Sleuth” or Ira Levin’s “Deathtrap” as a mind game develops, with the requisite role-reversal device: It becomes all too obvious that Jane isn’t here just to help write Paul’s final art book. Adair’s two-hander lacks Shaffer’s wicked sense of humor and fun, but Ruiz pushes things as far as he can with plenty of surreal oddities, including Paul’s knack for walking down a staircase backward.
Just before lensing this pic, Ruiz had made another mansion-set gothic, “Nuncigen House,” and that distinctly uncommercial film’s sense of characters being swallowed up by a physical space is clearly in evidence here. As the camera (Ricardo Aronovitch did the superb HD lensing) increasingly floats above Paul and Jane, and the third-act tension rises, Ruiz injects a sense of ghostliness into what might otherwise have been a routine psychothriller.
Conti and Hannah don’t always click, and Hannah sometimes appears out of sorts, perhaps a little lost. Still, she makes her Jane a frightening creature all the same, if only because it’s unclear what she’ll do next. Thesps Miriam Margolyes and Elaine Paige make every moment of their brief, often funny appearances count, as does Simon MacCorkindale as Paul’s literary agent.
Tech departments fire on all cylinders, showing what Ruiz could do on a slightly bigger budget than he was accustomed to. His wife, Valeria Sarmiento, is credited as one of pic’s three editors, and cutting is smooth and effective. Ruiz’s usual composer, Jorge Arriagada, is sorely missed here, given the soundtrack’s shoddy score credited to something called Extreme Music.
Under the novel’s title, the pic was released straight-to-DVD in the U.K., Australia and New Zealand in February 2010, following its 2009 Cannes market premiere. Ruiz’ first name in credits is given his seldom-used, non-Spanish spelling of Raoul, possibly due to the pic’s Brit identity.