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LaBute blasts back to his best form with sculpted firestarter

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DIRECTED BY Neil LaBute

STARRING Rachel Weisz, Paul Rudd, Gretchen Mol, Frederick Weller

Opened November 28, Cert 15, 96 mins

We feared the classic career arc: having blazed into the secret backrooms of our brains with the fearlessly candid In The Company Of Men and Your Friends And Neighbours, Neil LaBute had gone soft. Nurse Betty was ‘just’ funny; Possession was a timid attempt at highbrow literary credentials. But this is everything he does well, done brilliantly.

Inspired when asked if females could ever behave as appallingly as his ‘typical’ males, LaBute composed his answer. This was first a stage play in London and New York in 2001: he’s moved the story and cast outdoors, substituted an Elvis Costello soundtrack for Smashing Pumpkins, and made a lean, spare, furiously focused film which rips the enamel from your teeth. With noble exceptions like Secretary and Roger Dodger, there hasn’t been a movie to get you arguing about relationships and morals like this since, well, In The Company Of Men. It’s funny, sick, but healthily cynical. Blistering lines abound; the cast-well-rehearsed from the theatre runs-are perfect in every syllable and gesture.

In an American college town, geeky Adam (Rudd) can’t believe his luck when he’s picked up by rebellious punk-aesthete Evelyn (Weisz). As she subtly, irrevocably changes him, physically and emotionally, his friends Philip (Weller) and Jenny (Mol) reassess their own rapport and history with him. Lines are crossed, but while heads and hearts reel, Evelyn manipulates a shocking climactic revelation of her own. Kisses and words will be insignificant; to her, art is more important than seduction or connection. Art’s all that matters. So what if some people’s notion of ‘truth’ gets trampled upon?

You’ll have your own opinions as to the rights and wrongs. LaBute throws difficult, dirty questions in our faces again, for a purpose. Throwaway lines come back to haunt the characters; tiny actions and small decisions reverberate. There are delicate moments (“Moralists have no place in an art gallery” is almost a LaBute manifesto), and grandstanding ones (“The only thing that’d help him”, sneers Evelyn, “is a fucking knife through the throat”). Weisz, who co-produced, is extraordinarily edgy throughout, and Rudd’s comic vulnerability is gauged to implode.

Cruel, but essential. A hell of a thing.

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