By Daniel Walber | Spout August 1, 2011 at 2:36AM
Short Starts is a column devoted to kicking off the week with a short film, typically one tied to a new release. Today we look at a work directed by "The Whistleblower" actress Rachel Weisz.
In 2010 Glamour magazine gave a number of Hollywood actresses the opportunity to direct shorts based on some reader-submitted stories. Many of them, like the Jennifer Aniston-helmed film I featured earlier this month, are fairly middle-of-the-road narratives that succeed in telling a story but don’t accomplish much else. A few of these actresses, however, have managed to craft works that move beyond the novelty of the project and seem to suggest real filmmaking potential. Rachel Weisz is one of them, and “The Thief,” while a bit shaky, shows promise.
Rosemarie DeWitt is a woman engaged to be married, taking a shower in her suburban home. Joel Edgerton is a burglar who thought that the house was empty. She’s freaked out but rational while he’s clearly an amateur and just as nervous as she is. It’s a set-up we’ve seen plenty of times before, and its opening minutes aren’t entirely liberated from clichés. She was burgled a month prior and therefore has no more jewelry. She doesn’t have any cash and so he makes her drive to a nearby ATM. It’s well-acted but begins as a fairly standard break-in scenario.
Yet there are notes of greater directorial intent. Weisz plays on the sexual potency of the situation with a handful of interesting shots that betray a paranoid sensual anxiety striking the characters. DeWitt is in a bathrobe and ends up changing in order to leave the house. She dresses hidden in her closet, behind a mirrored door that frames a fascinating shot of the woman’s modesty and fear alongside an equally on-edge burglar. Weisz clearly has more complex notions about their relationship than one would find on the page of this simple narrative, which color not only the tension between the characters but also the mood of the film as a whole.
The plot turns quickly and perhaps too obviously with the ATM breaking down and a diversion into a supermarket. Yet as the Edgerton’s thief becomes more and more uneasy his victim grows increasingly resilient and creative. Their dynamic shifts, and Weisz introduces common ground between them that turns this typical hostage narrative upside down. Not unlike the way the young muggers and their victim resolve their differences in “Attack the Block,” these two characters discover a shared struggle in the context of recession-struck America.
The abrupt and darkly whimsical ending finally implies that Weisz may have a cinematic sensibility that goes beyond the somewhat unambitious Glamour Reel project. “The Thief” builds an intriguing connection between two characters that could easily have been treated as bland clichés. It’s well-paced, has some interesting camera work and on the whole stands out in a group of often mild short films. Let’s hope Weisz gets more opportunities to sit in the director’s chair in the future and hone her craft. Perhaps another collaboration with Edgerton, who is after all no stranger to short film himself. My fingers are crossed.
Here’s the film – there’s a 30-second Hyundai commercial that opens the video. (if the embed does not work, you can view the short here).