The Lovers Dir. Roland Joffé

[IFC Films; 2015]

Styles: romance, adventure
Others: The Fountain, John Carter

If one thing can be said about Roland Joffé’s The Lovers, it’s that it is ambitious. Not only does it stretch across two separate continents and cultures, but it reaches across time, spanning over 300 years in what can only be described as one of those epic tales about the power of love. The film begins with a brief story within a story. We hear of a ring made long ago, one ring — not to rule them all — but one that splits into two rings in order to connect two souls and reunite them if they are ever separated. It is this ring that Laura (Tamsin Egerton) finds while diving near the Great Barrier Reef in the year 2020. Trapped while trying to recover the ring buried alongside a shipwreck, her husband Jay (Josh Hartnett) rushes to the rescue, only to fall into a coma in the aftermath. Flash backwards to the days when the East India Company was just starting to establish control over major portions of India. Here we find a respected and courageous young captain named James Stewart (also Josh Hartnett), who bears more than a slight resemblance to Jay. James is a man who has no time for love — until he crosses path with the warrior Tulaja Naik (Bipasha Basu), a woman charged with protecting a disposed Indian queen. Tulaja doesn’t exactly make relationships easy: she has sworn off love because of a prophecy that she would ultimately betray her partner. But fate is hard to shake and the two are soon on their way to uniting — magical ring and all — even while their backgrounds push them apart.

Despite being firmly grounded on Earth, this story has hints of Burroughs’ Princess of Mars (the first novel in the John Carter series), particularly in the scenes that take place in India. And while the majority of the film takes place during the time of colonial occupation, it also occasionally flashes forward to the hospital where Laura urgently attempts to find a cure to Jay’s coma, the linking factor between the two narratives being the ring.

Ambitious? Yes. There are countless great ideas here to play with. And the locales in The Lovers have so much potential: too few English language films take advantage of what a story based in India — with all its history and heritage — has to offer.

But The Lovers lacks the focus that a successful film requires. A story with a two-hour run time should not feel messy or lost. There should not be wasted moments. Yes, there is room for experimentation, for freedom of form, for a languid pace – but with film, time is always a precious commodity. Unfortunately, The Lovers feels like a film that wants to be a TV mini series. It wants to have an abundance of slow, easy moments — moments to let a glance or a look soak in. But when it does so, it fails, resorting to cliché instead of anything that resembles depth. It might sound odd to charge a movie about undying love across ages and continents fueled by a magical ring with being cliché. But every line of dialog, every look and glance, and the whole structure of the film has a worn-out feeling. We’ve been here. Seen this.

Familiarity in itself is fine, but in The Lovers, it evokes no emotion. With the exception of James and Tulaja Naik during the India-based chapters of the story, most of the characters feel like they were shallow afterthoughts, there just to say the things we have all come to expect. Despite a few picturesque locales, the people and environments surrounding this love story feel hollow. Even the chemistry in the future portion of the star-crossed tale is uneven. Hartnett and Egerton are admittedly not given that much screen time together — a hospital in a bland sci-fi world of tomorrow and the boat where Jay collapses. This makes the believability of their undying love tough, especially without context or explanation.

And as ambitious as The Lovers is, it suffers from not being all that original. Its central idea already been done in much more successful and spectacular fashion. Watching Tomas/Tommy/Tom (Hugh Jackman) being pulled through ages to save his dying wife Isabel/Izzi (Rachel Weisz) in Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain is infinitely more striking. Despite its flaws, Aronofsky’s underrated film has has moments and levels of passion similar films can’t quite capture. A more recent example of epic love across the centuries is Only Lovers Left Alive, one of TMT’s favorites of 2014. Ther’es also the recent IFC release, Duke of Burgundy, a film that would not only make Fifty Shades of Grey blush, but that is an honest, truthful, visually stunning take on the complexities of that journey to find and define that illusive thing called love. The Lovers might be a tale about the power of love across distance and time, but the film itself will need more than a magic ring if it is to escape its fate in the digital equivalent of the bargain bin: the rear end of a Netflix queue.

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