The Eye of the Storm Reviews
Fine actors (Charlotte Rampling, Geoffrey Rush, Judy Davis) cannot salvage this story of a dying, wealthy, Australian matriarch, luring her hapless children back into the poisonous luxury of their ancestral adobe; the year is 1972, and the bitter taste of the Holocaust is still palatable in the role of a German housekeeper.
At first the viewer empathizes with "Elizabeth Hunter" (Rampling) beloved by her "help", shunned by her children, "Basil" (Rush), "Dorothy" (Davis); gathered around her deathbed to suck the spoils of her imminent demise. But as the film progresses, through a series of flashbacks, we recognize why her children strayed so far from the hearth; "mommy dearest" on steroids; she steals her daughter's lovers, refuses to attend her son's stage performances; beds whomever she fancies; she is amoral, unaccountable, vainglorious, self-centered; her erasure should have come at a precipitated rate.
Novels by James Michener and James Clavell address the calm, aka "eye" before the apocalyptic conclusion. "The Eye of the Storm" offers a behemoth's tiresome struggle against the inevitable; there is nothing calming about the process.
Charlotte Rampling plays Elizabeth Hunter, a dying matriarch who summons her itinerant children home from their disappointingly unsuccessful lives to be present at her death. (The title refers to a storm she survived as a younger woman, making her believe can choose her own moment to go.) But her children are far more concerned about the inheritance they might receive.
This is an actor's film, almost seeming a theatrical piece at times that showcases the talents of the three main actors. Rampling is spike-tongued and tactless and yet, as always, remains luminous, even as she falls into insensible death. Judy Davis is brittle and dynamic as the penniless, divorced French Princess struggling to retain her glamour. And Geoffrey Rush is obsequious and yet entirely feckless as the failed actor, Basil; his voice over full of delightful wryness. Most notable of the supporting cast is Alexandra Schepisi, the director's daughter, who has a delicious naughtiness and great sensuality to her nurse. And an unrecognisable Helen Morse manages to make the bizarre, theatrical German housekeeper sympathetic and tragic. She, along with the carers, seem to be the only ones who have true regard for the dying woman.
Schepisi wisely lets the drama play itself out through the character dynamic, though there are some directorial flourishes that seem to focus unsubtly on the decay of the family - constant cracks in walls lingered over or a button popping as Rush eats yet another sweet. It could all have been very contrived under a lesser director.
Ultimately this is gently moving, as the hen-pecked siblings come to terms with their past, their circumstance, and achieve a redemptive forgiveness towards their domineering mother, as she finally relinquishes control. It is in no way as gloomy as it could be, with some lovely played humour, a jolly jazz score, and is a delightful excursion into a decadent past.