Friday, January 28, 2011

Review: 2001 Oscar Nominee "The Cell" Finds Power in Vincent D'Onofrio

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 175 (of 2004) by Leroy Douresseaux

The Cell (2000)
Running time: 107 minutes (1 hour, 47 minutes)
MPAA – R for bizarre violence and sexual images, nudity, and language
DIRECTOR: Tarsem Singh
WRITER: Mark Protosevich
PRODUCERS: Julie Caro and Eric McLeod
EDITORS: Robert Duffy and Paul Rubell
Academy Award nominee


Starring: Jennifer Lopez, Vince Vaughn, Vincent D’Onofrio, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Dylan Baker, Jake Weber, James Gammon, Colton James, and Jake Thomas

I never liked music video director Tarsem’s video for rock band R.E.M.’s fondly remembered single, “Losing My Religion,” – pretentious video for a pretentious song. However, I have a little more tolerance for Tarsem Singh (his full name) because of his movie, The Cell. In the film, science can send one person’s consciousness into the mind of another person. That scenario allows Tarsem to create wonderfully colorful and bizarre images that would make for a nice music video, but that also work in the context of a film narrative.

Carl Rudolph Stargher (Vincent D’Onofrio) is a serial killer, but before he can kill his latest victim, he has a seizure related to schizophrenia that puts him in a coma from which he will not recover. FBI Agent Peter Novak (Vince Vaughn) knows from studying the evidence in Carl’s house that they have less than two days to find the latest victim before she drowns in a cell (or chamber) Carl has rigged to flood via a time release device. But where is the cell?

Enter pyschotherapist Catherine Dean (Jennifer Lopez). She is the only person with experience entering the mind of another human being, so Agent Novak convinces her to journey into Stargher’s mind to communicate with him in hopes that he will reveal the whereabouts of his latest victim to Catherine. However, Catherine has never entered the mind of someone she hadn’t studied. When she enters Stargher’s mind, Catherine finds a world of revulsion and hyper bizarre images. Before long she meets Stargher’s idealized version of himself, a powerful, cross-dressing, behemoth emperor of a strange land, who captures and traps Catherine in his mind.

No doubt, The Cell was released in hopes of attracting the same audience that liked the mind-bending trip of The Matrix’s shifting realities. The Cell isn’t anywhere nearly as good as The Matrix, but it’s a convincing thriller; Tarsem also creates a real sense that the clock is ticking while they search for Stargher’s latest victim. The bizarre landscapes and visuals within Stargher’s mind are intriguing and, with a few exceptions, both visually striking and appealing.

Sometimes, it all seems a little silly, but the journey into Stargher’s mind and the Stargher character are the entire film. Jennifer Lopez’s acting is quite bad in this film; she shows no emotion or life for that matter. There is little or nothing there; she’s an empty vessel. Vince Vaughn is just as bad, if not worse. He’s not acting; he’s pretending and doing a bad job of it.

Vincent D’Onofrio, who always seems willing to put himself through the contortions of makeup or to jump through emotional hoops, gives the performance that saves this film. He has a great film presence, especially when he plays the heavy or plays a bad guy. There’s an air of menace about him, or better yet, he always looks like he’s about to go postal. So everything that is scary and thrilling about this movie goes through him, and luckily Tarsem just happened to notice that.

5 of 10

2001 Academy Awards: 1 nomination: “Best Makeup” (Michèle Burke and Edouard F. Henriques)



  1. "about to go postal" LOL
    I can't agree with your more about your comments about Vincent. As creepy and as scary as this movie was it was Vincent that held your attention.

  2. Thank you for visiting. As he usually is in other flicks, Vincent was a powerful presence in The Cell. Too bad his character leaves "Brooklyn's Finest" so early in the story because the movie could have used his talents.

  3. So true. I found Brooklyn's Finest awfully long. I would have liked to have seen Vincent play the role that Richard Gere portrayed in that movie. He would have given it a little more life.