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Jane Eyre | Review

Brontë Brainstormed: Cary Fukanaga Offers Best of the Unneeded Faithful Jane Eyre Adaptations

Cary Fukanaga’s follow-up to his critical darling debut Sin Nombre is as good of a Jane Eyre adaptation as they’ll ever get, but all of its strengths still don’t mean we needed it. Fukanaga continues his golden boy streak here with a quality work, but he will remain in “next big thing” status rather than having his breakout success here. Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender are a dream pairing and they shine. Jamie Bell, Judi Dench and Sally Hawkins are ideal castings as well. Fukanaga and cinematographer Adriano Goldman are skilled craftsmen who combine powerful tools of fluent cinematic grammar and a capable artistic eye to convey this story, not in a way we haven’t seen before, but as good as a relatively on the nose Jane Eyre adaptation comes.

The main challenge when adapting a work such as Charlotte Brontë’s famed work is proving its necessity. This is far from the first time its been done, so the first test is whether or not this is cinematic. Every few years, a TV movie of Jane Eyre pops up, but it’s just about once every generation that we get one in movie theatres. Viewers watch movies like The Queen, The Duchess and The Other Boleyn Girl and criticize them as seeming more appropriate for HBO or network TV. Fukanaga’s Jane Eyre offers much more than these films, making it necessary to watch it in a theater projected on a screen rather than at home.

It is truly a beautiful film, beyond simply the period production design that audiences need to stop being so impressed by. Year after year, critics and awards favor period pieces such as this for their costume and production design. These films needs to be held to higher standards and we need to stop crediting them so much for doing exactly what hundreds if not thousands of films have executed the same way for over 100 years now. Instead, focus needs to be shifted to the filmic elements and you can credit Fukanaga for using techniques out of the horror genre to inject a newfound mystique into the classic tale.

Pay attention to the different color schemes Goldman incorporates for different times and places in Jane’s life, as they appropriately reference her state of mind. Screenwriter Moira Buffini’s dialogue is not just period but there are scenes that play like magical realism, for the flow between Rochester (Fassbender) and Jane (Wasikowska) feels much more like poetry than real people speaking, even in a time that we associate with the most elegantly verbose of speakers. These, and the performances, are the unique strengths of this film. Every single period piece that makes it to theaters these days is going to have lush, beautiful production and costume design. No more ink need be devoted to it. Everyone on this project is A+. Along with Joe Wright’s Pride and Prejudice, this steps forth as the gold standard of recent films based on romance novels of this period by authors like Brontë, Jane Austen and Edith Wharton.

Fukanaga has been a golden boy every step of the way. His NYU shorts brought him attention as a student, peaking with his short Victoria para Chino. After working in the Sundance labs, his feature debut was picked up even before its Park City premiere by Focus Features. Sin Nombre went on to do decent box office but more importantly it put him on the map and gave him a home at auteur friendly Focus. Upon being given carte blanche, he chose Jane Eyre for his next project, and a dream cast was assembled. Fukanaga does everything he can to make this worthwhile, but it cannot help but be argued that all of the energy of all of these talents could have been better used on an original story. In the end, this will likely just end up being noted as another of the every five years Jane Eyre adaptations. Die-hards of the period romance sub-genre will love it, and fans of the actors might also. Otherwise, unless you have a term paper due and spark notes are too time consuming for you, you’re fine waiting for what Fukanaga does next.

Rating 3 stars

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