Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: James Foley
Stars: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Eric Johnson, Bella Heathcote, Rita Ora, Victor Rasuk, Luke Grimes, Eloise Mumford, Kim Basinger, Marcia Gay Harden, Max Martini, Bruce Altman.
The original Fifty Shades Of Grey was based on E L James’ trashy best seller about the torrid and kinky sexual relationship between a handsome billionaire businessman with a B&D fetish and a naïve publishing assistant. It gave us a bit of a tantalising glimpse into the subculture of S&M and B&D. It was controversial and heavily criticised for degrading women. But despite that it was a massive box office hit, grossing nearly $600 million worldwide. So it’s no wonder that we get this largely unnecessary sequel. But in this case the B&D stands for bland and dull more than anything else.
It is a couple of years since Anastasia Steele (played by Dakota Johnson) walked out on the controlling Christian Grey. She has tried to move on with her life and has secured a new job as the assistant to publishing executive Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson, from The Knick, etc). But then Christian (again played by Jamie Dornan, from tv series The Fall, etc) re-enters her life and attempts to rekindle their relationship. Anastasia reluctantly settles into a relationship with him, thinking that she can do it on her terms. Anastasia may be one of the few people who understands Christian and his needs and appetites.
She wants him to be more open and honest. And we also get some hints at the troubled and tortured childhood that has played a role in shaping the adult Christian. But a number of female figures, skeletons from Christian’s past, also emerge and they threaten not only the relationship but also Anastasia’s life. There is Elena Lincoln (Kim Basinger, from LA Confidential, etc), the enigmatic older woman who supposedly first introduced Christian to the pleasures of pain, and there is the psychotic stalker Leila (rising Australian actress Bella Heathcote, from Dark Shadows, etc).
This sequel to 2015’s Fifty Shades Of Grey is primarily a love story that again delves into the S&M subculture, but it takes the material in a slightly different direction. This is more of a psychological thriller, with a touch of a Fatal Attraction-like stalker subplot. The thriller elements seem to suit director James Foley, a veteran filmmaker who has spent the better part of the last decade plying his trade on television in shows like House Of Cards, etc. Unlike Sam Taylor-Johnson, who directed the original film in the series and who took it all way too seriously, Foley seems aware of the trashy nature of the material and treats it in a manner befitting the schlocky and lurid storyline.
Foley also shoots the soft-core porn sex scenes in brightly lit fashion, although some of the music choices that accompany the sex scenes are dubious (particularly tacky is the use of Van Morrison’s classic Moondance during a scene in an elevator). Cinematographer John Schwartzman (Jurassic World, etc) maintains the glossy visual surface of the original as well, and uses some great scenic locations around Seattle. And production designer Nelson Coates has done a great job in creating Christian’s lavish and expansive apartment with killer views of the Seattle cityscape.
Fifty Shades Darker is the second film in James’ potboiler trilogy, and like most second films in a trilogy it spends a lot of time developing subplots and introducing characters that will play a key role in the concluding chapter.
Scripted by James’ husband Niall Leonard (a tv writer better known for his work on series like Monarch Of The Glen, etc), this so-called erotic drama is not particularly sexy nor particularly exciting. One of the biggest problems with the film is the lack of chemistry and rapport between Johnson and Dornan, a major issue for a film that hinges on the interaction between the two central protagonists. Johnson has the stronger role here and she does make the most of Anastasia’s mood changes. Basinger, who starred in 9 ½ Weeks, a superior film about a kinky sexual relationship, is wasted here in a fairly thankless role. Marcia Gay Harden reprises her role as Christian’s cold and aloof and domineering mother, but is also given little to do.
If you are looking for an intense and erotically charged drama about a kinky sexual relationship you would do better to track down Liliani Cavani’s dark and disturbing 1973 classic The Night Porter, with Charlotte Rampling at her alluring best and Dirk Bogarde, or 9 ½ Weeks, The Story Of O, etc.