Combustible Celluloid
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With: Lena Headey, Stellan Skarsgard, Ian Hart, Charlotte Rampling, Louise Goodall, Jason Hetherington, Kate Lynn Evans, John Killoran, John Harwood, Fergis McLarnon
Written by: Hans Petter Moland, Kristin Amundsen, based on a story by Lars Bill Lundholm
Directed by: Hans Petter Moland
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 106
Date: 07/05/2000

Aberdeen (2001)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

End of the Road

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Why is it that in road movies the people who travel together always hate each other? Sure, Aberdeen changes the stakes a little by making the participants father and daughter instead of the usual It Happened One Night feuding couple. But for all its attempts at bending the rules, Aberdeen still comes off as frustratingly conventional. Charlotte Rampling plays a cancer-stricken mother who asks that her estranged ex-husband Tomas (Stellan Skarsgard) and daughter Kaisa (Lena Headey) visit her before she shuffles off the mortal coil. Unfortunately, Kaisa and Tomas are also estranged from each other. Tomas is a drunk recently fired from his job working on ocean oil rigs (the same job Skarsgard had in Breaking the Waves). And Kaisa is a coke-sniffer who works in a fancy office building. She rents a car and drags her father out of his watering hole. They make tracks for Aberdeen, Scotland.

Then comes the obligatory scene in which the movie explains why the travelers can't simply take an airplane. Tomas is drunk and falls over, smashing one of his bottles on the airport floor. Every road movie has a scene like this because if they took a plane, there'd be no movie. In Rat Race, Seth Green and Vince Vieluf destroy the control tower, and in Forces of Nature, the heroes' plane crashes. Both Skarsgard and Headey gnash and tear at their characters' souls, delivering amazing performances. But all the time their dialogue sounds like dialogue, not conversation. The film is written by Hans Petter Moland and Kristin Amundsen, and directed by Moland. Neither of them has very many credits, and it seems like they have a long way to go before they can get inside a story rather than just gliding on its surface. Not that they don't try. Their depiction of Tomas the alcoholic seems right on the money, and a far more potent portrayal than Nicolas Cage's bursting-with-life loser in Leaving Las Vegas. Tomas never seems happy -- he's either miserable and shaking, drunk and sloppy, or stuck uncomfortably somewhere in the middle. Likewise, Kaisa keeps her cocaine use seemingly under control, but the rest of her life seems to teeter on the brink of chaos.

Between these glimpses of truth, the movie throws in more cliches. Kaisa meets a friendly, level-headed trucker named Clive (Ian Hart), who seems to understand her entire situation just from a one-night stand. And Tomas runs into a group of drunken Scottish frat boys, who toss a further monkey wrench into the travelers' plans. Rather than worrying about the father and daughter and their relationship and whether or not they were going to see Rampling on time, I spent a good deal of time worrying that the characters might be cold. The Scottish landscape is shown in a constant foggy grayish-blue, and our heroes are dressed in only the most cursory clothing (neither bothered to pack a change of clothes for the trip). Aberdeen tries so hard that I can't help but give it a few points. But in the end, I just don't expect to really remember it, or even to be able to tell it apart from the many movies just like it.

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