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Originally published Friday, April 25, 2008 at 12:00 AM


Movie review

Film "The Life Before Her Eyes" suffers from its loyalty to the book

Adapting novels to film is a balancing act between two disparate art forms, made easier when the source material is inherently cinematic...

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 2 stars

"The Life Before Her Eyes," with Uma Thurman, Evan Rachel Wood, Eva Amurri, Brett Cullen. Directed by Vadim Perelman, from a screenplay by Emil Stern, based on the novel by Laura Kasischke. 90 minutes. Rated R for violent and disturbing content, language and brief drug use. Alderwood 16, Seven Gables.

Adapting novels to film is a balancing act between two disparate art forms, made easier when the source material is inherently cinematic (Michael Crichton's "Jurassic Park" reads like a screenplay treatment) and more challenging when a story's strengths are rooted in the subtleties of its literature. In any case, slavish fidelity to the source is no guarantee of memorable filmmaking.

It's obvious from watching "The Life Before Her Eyes" that Laura Kasischke's acclaimed 2002 source novel offers admirable details of description and psychology, combined with a timely plot involving personal tragedy and survivors' guilt following a Columbine-like high-school massacre.

Adapted into a serious vehicle for Uma Thurman (whose underrated skills are worthy of the challenge), Kasischke's story retains most of its emotional substance, but its impact has been diluted, ironically, by excessive loyalty to the novel's literary devices. On screen, they seem schematic and repetitious, and the secret buried in Kasischke's novel (the title yields a primary clue) plays like a weak riff on "Jacob's Ladder," a better film that operates on the same dramatic principle.

Thurman's pensive beauty is well-matched to her role as Diana, an art teacher who, in high school 15 years earlier, survived a classmate's lethal rampage. She knew of the disturbed boy's intentions but mistakenly thought he was joking. In a series of flashbacks that incrementally reveal the source of her adult dysfunction, the rebellious teenage Diana (Evan Rachel Wood) is forced to confront the killer along with her decent, churchgoing best friend Maureen (Eva Amurri).

Before that encounter is fully revealed, director Vadim Perelman (who fared better with his acclaimed debut "House of Sand and Fog") offers teasing hints regarding the story's ultimate revelation, relying on clunky metaphors and plot gimmicks that attentive viewers will readily identify. When so much significance is placed on repeated images of butterflies, flowing water and birds in flight, symbolism becomes an obvious ploy instead of an organic element of the story unfolding.

What you get, in the end, is a pair of fine performances (from Thurman and Wood) and a technically well-made film that arrives at a foregone conclusion. Given the gravity of its content, "The Life Before Her Eyes" is surprisingly forgettable as it flashes past our own.

Jeff Shannon:

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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