If ever Ben Kingsley’s acting talents were questioned, any speculation that he is anything less than a master can now be laid to rest.
He has just turned in a performance that stretches the bounds of any actor’s or actress’ abilities to the limit, and he does it flawlessly in “Death and the Maiden.”
Kingsley plays a man who is accused of a heinous deed, but denies it. He is trying to make the other characters in the film believe his innocence and they (and we) are carefully studying his personality and story for clues to his guilt or innocence. So, every facial tick or stutter that Kingsley lets out on screen matters.
Despite the complexity of the role, Kingsley is a marvel. He is completely convincing as Dr. Roberto Miranda and makes his contribution to “Death and the Maiden” memorable and intense.
Fate has Miranda give Gerardo Escobar (Stuart Wilson) a ride home in the middle of a rainstorm after Escobar’s car has a flat. Escobar has just been appointed to investigate the tortures and murders conducted by the military during the dictatorship of the unnamed South American country where the story takes place.
But he is only given permission to look into the interrogations that ended in death. Escobar’s wife, Pauline (Sigourney Weaver), was a victim who was allowed to live. Years ago, she was tortured and raped by the military. This has left her paranoid and, as both she and Escobar admit, crazy.
But when Miranda drops off Escobar, Pauline hears his voice and instantly places it as one of the men who raped her. Since she was blindfolded, she only recognizes his speech patterns, voice and favorite quotations.
Armed with a handgun, she kidnaps him and ties him to a chair, determined to get a confession, or to kill him.
The high-powered plot moves quickly, all confined to Escobar’s house. During it all, the question of whether or not Miranda was there is debated. Pauline says he was, Miranda says he wasn’t, and Escobar plays the unwilling defense attorney who just wants it all to end.
This makes for a very “heavy” movie. Pauline graphically recounts the details of the atrocities inflicted upon her. These recollections are stomach-churning enough and, thankfully, there are no reenactments.
But the descriptions of these acts stick in the memory far longer than a visual representation would.
Weaver is wonderful. She proves in “Death and the Maiden” that she is versatile and can act with enough intensity to even match Kingsley occasionally. Wilson holds his own, but does not have as flashy a role as the others.
All of the action in “Death and the Maiden” winds down to the last scenes. And they are not a letdown. The ending is perfect and lives up to everything the rest of the movie has led to. And the final shots elevate the film to true greatness, by bringing the story full circle and closing on a brilliant and unforgettable note.
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