“Who cares about the fifth Earl of Bathsdrop and Lady Higgenbottom and who killed Nigel Grinchgibbons?” I’m right there with you, Barton, and I found myself returning to these words more and more as the endlessly frustrating My Cousin Rachel dissolved right before my eyes. It also reminded me of Michel Gondry’s 12-hour endurance test The Green Hornet (am I remembering that correctly?), as every actor in this movie seems to be moving at different and diametrically opposed speeds, never quite meeting in the middle or rising up (coming down?) to each other’s levels. Which is too bad, because much of what happens on screen isn’t even all that uninteresting, but at around the 30-minute mark, I figured out that no one element was ever going to connect to any other in any kind of meaningful way, so I just started letting it roll over me, too tired to play the very basic guessing game the film establishes as its plot.
That plot is essentially a whodunnit with only one real suspect (or … no suspect? Again, who knows?) that teases endlessly and drops hints and turns from sinister to ridiculous at the drop of a very high hat.
Philip was raised by his older cousin. That cousin later meets their other cousin Rachel and marries her. Cousin dies; possibly unreliable evidence suggests Rachel killed him; Philip seeks revenge. Philip falls in love with Rachel instead of getting his revenge. Philip gets sick. Is Rachel poisoning him? Is she the evil woman he thinks she is? Is he a paranoid freak show? Is Rachel secretly seeing that Italian guy? Wait, is that Italian guy gay? Why is Philip ignoring that other woman who’s obviously into him? Is any of this important at all? I have so many questions.
Chief among my questions, though, is this: Why hire Rachel Weisz to star in your movie when she is head and shoulders above everyone else in any given beautifully appointed 19th-century room she’s in in terms of talent? Why let her ruin your mediocre movie by showing the audience how much better it could’ve been if the rest of the cast had only been up to her challenge? The script certainly could’ve used the help.
Sam Claflin, star of such modern masterpieces as the Hunger Games and Pirates of the Caribbean series, does what he does best here with the character of Philip. He’s dumb and arrogant. His opening narration all but declares that he’s just a spoiled, rich idiot who we maybe shouldn’t listen to all that closely since he has literally no idea what’s going on at any point in the story.
Speaking of that opening, though — the wild and energetic cinematography used to convey Philip’s early years, in retrospect, only adds to the feeling of missed opportunity here. This is a film that certainly didn’t have to be this disappointing. But in less than two hours we went from there to the most anticlimactic and unsatisfying ending in recent memory. Rated PG-13 for some sexuality and brief strong language. Now Playing at Carolina Cinemark, Fine Arts Theatre.