The fact that J Blakeson, the writer and director of “The Disappearance of Alice Creed,” has decided not to tell us his first name should give us a hint as to what he’s up to. Here is a director who intends to be remembered, who hits the scene with a fully formed sense of his own identity and a well-developed idea of what he wants to bring to the screen. Of course, any no-talent hack can think up a distinctive name for himself, and the real miracle here is that Blakeson is able to back it up with a disctinctive film. He really does appear to be a director with something to offer. Perhaps something great.
Actually “great” might be a strange word to use regarding “The Disappearance of Alice Creed,” it is forcefully, intentionally small, both in cast, plot, and scope. Great is a word used to describe sweeping epics, histories and tragedies; “Creed” is a nasty little crime film. But if it’s possible to achieve greatness painting on a tiny canvasses with bold lines and bloody colors, Blakeson is well on his way to achieving greatness. “Alice Creed” is nearly perfectly executed, a brutally efficient 96 minutes that never lets up, and never lets its audience down.
Eddie Marsan and Martin Compston are thugs who kidnap Gemma Arterton, the rebellious daughter of a very rich man. The crime is perfectly planned by Marsan, who brings so much nervous energy to his performance that the screen virtually crackles with it. (Time out to talk about Eddie Marsan. He is quickly becoming one of my favorite actors. His character here is a shade darker version of the one in “Happy-Go-Lucky;” I liked him in that movie enough to mention him in my 2008 Oscar write-up. He’s likely to get typecast in this sort of role; given his looks, that might be inevitable. I can’t really see him playing an alpha dog. He might make a decent Woody Allen protagonist, if Allen ever makes a decent movie again.) The first ten minutes of the film are free of dialogue, as we watch Marsan and Compston set up the crime; they have thought of every last detail. It’s a fascinating way to open a film, and a touch horrifying; we know, right off the bat, that there’s not going to be any fluff or silliness about this film, no Liam Neesons storming in and killing 12 guys with a paperclip. The bad guys just might win this one.
But in spite of Marsan’s obsessive planning and execution, “The Disappearance of Alice Creed” has a few surprises in store for us. And here’s the beautiful thing: they’re all right there on the screen in the first few moments of the film. Everything is built in from the beginning, hidden, waiting to spring out at you. I love that.
In some ways, “Alice Creed” plays like theater; a limited number of actors and sets, a short running time, and a writer/director who knows how to turn those limitations into strengths. It also proceeds with the same kind of thematic morality I recently wrote about in “The American:” once you get your hands dirty, there’s no coming clean again, regardless of your original intentions. But that’s all I want to say about its plot twists and denouement. I’d hate to lessen the viewing experience for lovers of tense, tight little neo-noir crime thrillers. If that’s the kind of movie you enjoy, you’ll love “The Disappearance of Alice Creed” as much as I did. I guarantee it.