Combustible Celluloid
 
With: Isabelle Huppert, Chloë Grace Moretz, Maika Monroe, Colm Feore, Stephen Rea
Written by: Ray Wright, Neil Jordan, based on a story by Ray Wright
Directed by: Neil Jordan
MPAA Rating: R for some violence and disturbing images
Running Time: 99
Date: 03/01/2019
IMDB

Greta (2019)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Tightrope Stalker

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Opening Friday in Bay Area theaters, Neil Jordan's Greta is of a piece with a series of psychopathic stalker movies that struck back in the 1990s, things like Misery, Cape Fear, Pacific Heights, Single White Female, The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, Unlawful Entry, and, of course, the San Francisco Giants movie The Fan.

Some of those movies generated a good amount of suspense and worked fairly well, and in Jordan's skillful hands, Greta, despite a good deal of silliness, also works fairly well.

Hailing from Ireland, Jordan has made fine, smart films like Mona Lisa, The Crying Game, and The Butcher Boy, but is also unafraid of genre films.

He has taken on werewolves, ghosts, vampires, psychics, and selkies, in addition to more run-of-the-mill criminals and murderers, and handles each subject with a certain quiet intelligence and grace, rarely resorting to the overwrought or overblown.

In Greta, Chloë Grace Moretz is instantly likable as Frances, a kind, sad woman trying to start her life in New York City, working as a server in a nice restaurant and rooming with her outgoing friend Erica (Maika Monroe).

Frances's mother has recently died, and she keeps avoiding phone calls from her father (Colm Feore), not knowing what to say, while Erica vainly tries to get her to go out on the town.

One night Frances finds a purse on the subway, and being too nice to pocket the money, she decides to return it. She goes to the address on the driver's license and meets the title Greta (Isabelle Huppert).

The older woman seems lonely, with a late husband and an absent daughter. Frances convinces her to get a dog, and they make a date to pick one out together.

Greta wistfully observes that someday Frances will go away and stop visiting, and Frances insists she won't. "I'm like chewing gum... I tend to stick around," she says.

Then, at Greta's place, Frances discovers a cabinet full of purses, identical to the one left on the subway. Alarmed, she tries to end things, but finds that things can't be ended quite so easily.

The screenplay, co-written by Jordan and Ray Wright, contains questions and contrivances that are difficult to ignore or forgive. The main one is that the psychopath stalker seems to have the supernatural ability to know where everyone is at all times, and the ability to sneak up silently from any distance.

And certainly there are moments in which we might wish the good guys to be just a little bit more on their toes, but often, where logic fails in Greta, tense squirming and giddy seat-grabbing comes in.

The two strong lead performances, and a scrappy third one by Monroe, definitely help matters.

Just 22, Moretz has already been in dozens of movies and feels as if she's been around forever; she's one of those "old souls" that people talk about. Her vulnerability and hurt in her role are quite touching.

Huppert is something else. She's one of cinema's greats, having gone to the well of darkness for brutal, intense roles in Claude Chabrol's Merci pour le Chocolat, Michael Haneke's The Piano Teacher, and Paul Verhoeven's Elle. Greta joins that list.

For good measure, Jordan's old faithful standby, Stephen Rea, is also here as a shabby, nearly-decimated private detective. This is their eleventh feature film together since Jordan's 1982 debut, Angel (a.k.a. Danny Boy).

Jordan's best achievement in Greta, aside from a few solid, nail-biting moments, is establishing a New York that feels, not bustling or noisy, but lonely and quiet.

Quietness has always been a Jordan trademark, and he uses it here to demonstrate just how these two women could connect, how the empty spaces within them could draw them together. Then, when sound is used for drama or for fear, it actually means something.

Greta gets a little more reckless as it goes — we're not exactly talking Hitchcockian levels of nuance or control — but Jordan's touch, his genuineness, take what could have been a ridiculous film and make it briskly enjoyable.

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