A tale of deceit, adultery, obsession and wicked friendship, Notes on a Scandal marks Judi Dench's latest award-worthy performance as she plays a manipulative and scheming woman who tries to destroy a friend's life so that she can have her for herself.
Notes on a Scandal stars Cate Blanchett as Sheba Hart, a new and relatively young art teacher who befriends the lonely veteran of the school, Barbara Covett (Dench). Both the staff and students take to Sheba quickly for her looks, as does Barbara, who finds her to be the perfect specimen. However, when Barbara learns that Sheba has been sleeping with one of her 15-year old students, she is forced to make a choice: does she turn in her one friend or does she hide the truth and use the secret for her personal gain?
The movie is everything you'd expect it to be, especially if you've seen the trailer. While the marketing for the film was effective, it was a little too effective: the trailer shows the entire movie from beginning to end. This has two negative effects.
First, the movie is somewhat predictable (if you've seen the previews). This is not a movie that needs to be secretive, but there's a point in the movie where you realize you've seen snippets of every major scene to come in the previews.
Second, Notes on a Scandal does not mount to the intensity I was expecting. Having watched the trailer, I figured everything shown there was just foreshadowing for something even worse to follow. Instead, the movie never reaches the point where things have gotten completely out of hand that you don't know how the protagonist will bounce back from her problems. I was expecting the character of Barbara to hang the secrets she knew over Sheba much more than she did, but the movie really never amounts to that much. I suppose this was the intention of director Richard Eyre, to avoid the "cliché" of going the shocking route. I would have preferred an alternative path. The movie is never as chilling as it could have and should have been.
So, in other words, while the trailer was great in terms of getting people into the theater, it also ruined the movie.
All that being said, Notes on a Scandal is still a pretty good movie with a good story, excellent screenplay and absolutely fabulous acting. Blanchett is terrific in the lead, and kudos should go to her for balancing her character between a protagonist we should sympathize for and a woman who does the dumbest of things, and essentially is a criminal. It's not easy to portray a woman who is screwing a 15-year old boy, but Blanchett pulls it off. Of course, the real highlight is Dench, who absolutely steals every scene she is in. She too walks the careful line of portraying someone who is so wicked and wrong in the head, yet who is also a victim of her own loneliness. Her character lacked the social upbringing to teach her how to conform to one another, so she uses the one thing she can rely on - her mind - to make people "like" her. If this isn't an Oscar nomination for Dench, I don't know what would be. This is one of her best, if not the best, performances of her career.
Notes on a Scandal is an intriguing movie with great performances, but it doesn't amount to the powerful climax I was expecting. Recommended, but it would be better as a rental.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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