Directed by Robert Altman
If you don’t see this movie at least twice you’ll be cheating yourself out of half the fun. I’ve never been a huge fan of Robert Altman – I admired the idea of his films and how he worked more than I actually enjoyed the movies themselves.
But in Gosford Park I enjoyed the movie at least as much as the idea of it – probably more so. And I think this is because the murder mystery of this kind lends itself to Altman’s style.
Altman is about lots of people and lots of “stuff.” In other words, many characters with many motivations, many desires and goals.
His films document behavior within the context of an overall plot.
The complaint about Robert Altman films is usually that the story gets too obscured and thus the film is difficult to follow.
They become simply studies of characters.
But this is exactly what the murder mystery is – a lot of characters, a lot of motivations and the audience trying to figure out “who dunnit.”
Of course Altman could care less about “who dunnit” (as he says himself in the DVD’s special features). He’s much more interested in why it’s done and how the characters respond both before and after the crime.
In Gosford Park, when the “who” is revealed (somewhat obliquely), we don’t get the usual surprise of, “Oh, it was him,” or “Oh, it was her.” The revelation is in why the crime was committed.
So the director (Altman) and screenwriter (Julian Fellowes) truly work cinematic magic here by making a genre style film but, in a sense, turning it inside out. Or rather, using it for their own purposes rather than the genre’s.
My favourite scene has to be the one near the end between Helen Mirren and Eileen Atkins (Mrs. Wilson and Mrs. Croft), which seems to me to be the scene the entire movie has been leading to. But the cast, which is enormous, is brilliant throughout and every scene is a gem.
Another aspect of the film … Altman movies tend to be satires. Generally, I’m not a big fan of satires and this may be why I’ve been less receptive to his movies in the past.
Gosford Park is also satirical but the satire is much more muted than other Altman films. Or perhaps it’s not so much muted as better balanced with a greater focus on characters we empathize with. In fact, I wasn’t even aware of the film as a satire until afterwards, reading other reviews, and realized that yes, it was indeed a satire of sorts.
On the DVD (special features) there is also a Q&A session (about 25 minutes) with Altman, Fellowes, and many of the cast. It’s a great bonus because (unlike most special feature fluff) you get some insight into the how’s and why’s of Altman’s direction, Fellowes’ script, and so on.