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CRUELLA (2021) Review

Neil reviews Disney’s CRUELLA praising Emma Stone for a “transcendent” performance in the title role.

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Cruella (Disney)

Directed by Craig Gillespie, Cruella stars Emma Stone in the lead role alongside Emma Thompson, Joel Fry, Paul Walter Hauser, Emily Beecham, Kirby Howell-Baptiste and Mark Strong. The film arrives on Disney+ via Premiere Access on May 28, 2021.

Synopsis

Cruella, which is set in 1970s London amidst the punk rock revolution, follows a young grifter named Estella, a clever and creative girl determined to make a name for herself with her designs. She befriends a pair of young thieves who appreciate her appetite for mischief, and together they are able to build a life for themselves on the London streets. One day, Estella’s flair for fashion catches the eye of the Baroness von Hellman, a fashion legend who is devastatingly chic and terrifyingly haute, played by two-time Oscar® winner Emma Thompson (Howards End, Sense & Sensibility). But their relationship sets in motion a course of events and revelations that will cause Estella to embrace her wicked side and become the raucous, fashionable and revenge-bent Cruella.

Review

In recent years Disney has carved itself a new niche in cinema by translating animated properties to live-action. Whilst many – Aladdin and Jungle Book spring to mind – have been successful, others – The Lion King – failed to ignite the box office. The announcement that Craig Gillespie would be helming a Cruella de Vil origin story was met with much skepticism. Why would Disney bring a two-dimensional villain in to a three dimensional world?

Within the first ten minutes it becomes abundantly clear why Disney felt Cruella was a creatively (and profitably) good idea. Dana Fox and Tony McNamara’s screenplay absolutely crackles with anarchic wit from start to finish. Based on a story from Aline Brosh McKenna, Kelly Marcel and Steve Zissis, the transformation from Estella to Cruella is nothing short of captivating to behold.

Though certain plot developments feel predictable Cruella executes its narrative in ways wholly original to the House of Mouse. The underlying punk attitude of its setting and its characters sizzles to the surface at every opportunity. This two fingers to authority is hugely bolstered by incredible cinematography from Nicolas Karakatsanis. There’s little room for conventional choices and a slew of punk and alternative classics on the soundtrack only serves to drive that point home.

There a moments where Cruella feels almost too heavily orchestrated. Just when the film is tipping from punk to programmed Emma Stone explodes from the screen in fiercely unexpected ways. Her performance is truly transcendent with Stone disappearing and only Cruella existing on screen. She commits fully and entirely to the role making Cruella a larger than life character. The two dimensional villain of the 101 Dalmatians movies is suddenly a real person with very real complications.

Stone delights in taking Estella to some incredibly dark places before emerging as Cruella. Her journey feels earned and believable. The moment Cruella bursts on to the scene is incredibly satisfying. But in a similar vein to Joker, Cruella never veers from an empathetic approach to the character.

Emma Thompson is equally fascinating as Baroness von Hellman. Her role in Estella/Cruella’s life is intrinsic to the character and her descent into villainy. Hellman represents everything Cruella will come to be in the future. Thompson plays Hellman with a seething hatred. She’s calculating and methodical in her cruelty but it’s clear Thompson is enjoying every moment.

Rounding out the ensemble are Mark Strong, Joel Fry and Paul Walter Hauser. All three are brilliantly cast in supporting roles. Fry and Hauser backup Stone with immense talent. Playing the goons can easily be forgettable but both bring individual characteristics to Jasper and Horace. Strong also takes on a surprising role given his penchant for playing the villain.

The overall production of Cruella is nothing short of a masterpiece. Outside of the brilliant visuals and Nicholas Britell’s rousing score, the film features stunning costume design. Jenny Beavan has been able to bring a level of fashion to the film which feels perfectly rooted in the characters personalities. Hair and makeup also feel ripped straight from the pages of a fashion magazine. Cruella is wholly deserving of the awards buzz it has been receiving.

Verdict

Simply put, Emma Stone is transcendent in Cruella. The film is bold, visually seductive and truly anarchic.


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