Agora - DVD Review

'great to watch and for the most part the director's innovation and execution is commendable'

Agora, a Spanish-made film about an Egyptian philosopher, took huge money in its native land, eventually earning enough in its opening weekend to become the second highest grossing opening the country had ever seen. Elsewhere it fared less well. In the US, Agora took just over $600,000 and its total take excluding the Spanish box office only reached $8.5million; a poor return on its $70million dollar budget.

In a way, Agora's financial failure is surprising. Director Alejandro Amenábar is a multi-award winner with a small but loyal following after the quiet success of The Others, for which his self-penned script won a BAFTA. His lead too is a household name: Rachel Weisz plays Hypatia, a real-life Egyptian scholar and astronomer who lived in Alexandria, where Agora is exclusively set, around the year 391AD.

When the two main talents of the film combine, Agora fires to magnificent effect. Weisz as Hypatia is solid, not stunning, but Amenábar's direction seeks to lift her performance and the whole piece. The director is tangibly shooting for a grandiose historical epic and at times his carefully staged set pieces reach Gladiator-alike heights. The highlights are undoubtedly his sweeping overhead shots which pick out collectives and individuals in a beautiful and informative manner, providing neural stimulation on multiple levels. It's great to watch and for the most part Amenábar's innovation and execution is commendable.

Whilst the script (co-written by Amenábar and Mateo Gil) is fine, Agora's Achilles' heel is its performances. Whilst Weisz is OK, she could be more dynamic and at times her portrayal of Hypatia feels unnaturally restrained. It's nice to see Ronin's Michael Lonsdale crop up in a fairly decent role and relative newcomer Oscar Isaac is decent but that's unfortunately where the positive points end. The other two main supporting turns from Max Minghella and Rupert Evans are incredibly weak and Minghella in particular really struggles. In the latter half of the film he physically resembles a young Mark Ruffalo but in acting terms, he only resembles a fairly sturdy post, such is the bereft nature of his emotional output.

It all makes, ultimately, for a rather subdued affair, lacking in the kind of convincing set pieces and individually brilliant performances that elevate genuine historical epics. Amenábar's ideas are sound, stunning even, but something with his cast just doesn't click and we're left with a film that, like its worldwide box office, is successful only in parts.

Look further...

'the film gets a little heavy-handed in its obvious messages about atrocities committed in God's name' - The Dark Of The Matinee 3/4

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