I'm actually a bit surprised that The Disappearance of Alice Creed is not in fact based on a play, so theatrical is its sensibility. More, I'm surprised it wasn't a play from the 60s or 70s, as it feels like some fantasy collaboration between Anthony Shaffer and Harold Pinter, with a few suggestions from Joe Orton thrown in to shock the audience. It's a great credit therefore to writer and director J Blakeson that his full feature directorial debut can not only recall such greats but play only to the strengths, avoiding the pitfalls, of the three hander constraints and styles of the very best theatre, as well as managing the sleight of hand to make a film whose limited cast and setting doesn't necessarily rankle with its audience.
Blakeson delivers a taut and unflinching 90 minutes that is filled with twist, counter twist, cross and double cross that certainly make an audience gasp. The meat of such material requires the very best from a cast so small and inevitably they have to be at the top of their game. I am pleased to say that the wonderful Eddie Marsan (never not at the top of his game) Gemma Arterton and Matthew Compston definitely deliver every second with real conviction.
It's certainly a brave and assured turn from Arterton, an actress I greatly admire though admittedly often for the shallow aspect that she is stunningly attractive. Here she gets to reveal a very different side to her screen image and embraces the chance and challenge to the hilt. I hope she can get more roles like this and less roles that are essentially totty in wannabe franchise flicks like Prince Of Persia, Hansel and Gretel etc, which though cheesily likeable hardly stretch her. Martin Compston, with arguably the most complex character of the trio, continues to prove that beyond the baby face there is an incredibly mature actor capable of real depth. Marsan is as ever a solid fulcrum for the piece, a strong powerhouse who is totally captivating yet generous enough with his fellow cast, whom you know will provide the necessary fireworks.
If there's one quibble, and it is only slight, it is that when all is said and done each actor depicts a character who is essentially not very likeable, not even the tragic kidnapped Alice. As such it can be hard for a viewer to have any sympathy for anyone, but the tense air and the numerous twists are what will keep you watching.
Reading this back I can't help but feel it seems more like a theatre review, but that is because ultimately I cannot stop thinking of the piece, so heavily focused on the acting of its trio, as being such. That is not to say that it isn't filmic or visually arresting, there are some wonderfully tight well constructed scenes throughout that can only pay off on the screen - certainly the film's opening 5/10 minutes. It's just that ultimately, for a subject so reliant on twists and turns I'm wondering if it can stand up to a repeated viewing like other films. It just loses out on reaching top marks because of that, but it is very very close.