Carnal Knowledge devours Vertigo in Neil LaBute's bruising and brilliant fifth film. American cinema's masterly misery merchant leaves the period politeness of Possession to return to the acidic observations of Your Friends & Neighbours, exploring the extremes of art and artifice with devastating effect.
Adapted from his play, this is a four-hander that remains resolutely restricted - an intimate, claustrophobic character piece with no attempt made to open it up. It feels astonishingly immediate: an intense, awkward experience; a troubling, true picture.
"FROM GEEK TO CHIC"
Catching her about to deface an artwork, Adam (the excellent Paul Rudd) engages Evelyn (a revelatory Rachel Weisz) in conversation, establishing a rapport which amazes him by resulting in a relationship.
Gradually she transforms him, from geek to chic. But as his friendships with lost love Jenny (Gretchen Mol) and her fiancé Phillip (Fred Weller) flounder, is his change for good or ill? Ditching a dodgy jacket is one thing, but how is Adam's transformation affecting his soul?
LaBute's film references Pygmalion and Play Misty For Me, as it considers the vagaries of human interaction and the sculpting of sexual relationships.
"BRUTAL AND SEXY"
It demands that we evaluate what's important, examining the assertion of Jack Nicholson's caustic Casanova in Carnal Knowledge (the director's favourite film): "Believe me, looks are everything."
LaBute asks, Is the superficial so evil? What lies beneath? What is the reality of love; the morality of art?
Brutal, sexy and astonishingly acted, The Shape Of Things is a piteously well-observed exploration of depthless desire and compromised characters; scouring the surface of things to reveal our reflection. Superb.