Andrea’s film review – Decision to Leave

Decision to Leave ⭐️⭐️½  Review by Andrea Carnevali

A detective investigates a man’s death in the mountains. Out in cinemas now.

I’m always a bit apprehensive whenever I have to write about any film which carries five stars reviews pretty much everywhere I turn, but I’ve got to be honest, even if that makes me appear a bit dumb, I found this film really hard to get into.

The South Korean writer-director Park Chan-Wook is a critics’ darling; he has a string of critical praised films on his resume (Oldboy, Lady Vengeance and The Handmaiden, just to mention a few), so it’s not surprising that this latest effort (after a six-year hiatus) ended up not just being heralded as a great film, but also winning the best-director prize at Cannes.

In its defence, Decision to Leave does indeed look very stylish and there are some great directorial flourishes (though for fans of his previous strong and daring work this is a much more restrained affair), and yet I couldn’t help the feeling that it was one of those instances where “style” was actually distracting and it seemed to overwhelm everything else, most of all and crucially the emotions of the characters at the centre of the story.

The intricate narrative with its nonlinear editing and the constant time shifts was confusing to say the least and more than once I found myself completely lost wondering whether I was just not clever enough to follow it all.

The subtitles didn’t really help much, there was so much to take in: graphics, text, actors, dialogue that I wanted to pause and rewind the film more than once.

The film clearly aims to be a modern noir (with a great Wei Tang as the “femme fatale” too), with echoes from Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, David Fincher’s Zodiac, mixed in with a romantic erotic thriller (minus the sex part), police procedural and even slapstick.

It begins with a mystery as a businessman / climber is found dead at the bottom of a mountain. Did he jump? Was he pushed?

It’s all very promising stuff and it has the potential to be a gripping story, but while it was often very atmospheric and mesmerising, it was also very slow and confusing.

I can’t shake the feeling that Park Chan-Wook seems to mistake intriguing ambiguity with complete disorientation and bafflement.

And then all of a sudden, another story comes into play, with another murder… And it all looks a bit disconnected from what I’ve just been watching. What is Park really trying to say? Why are there so many subplots and unnecessary characters?

When you really stop and look at it, it all makes very little sense and not in a trashy entertaining way.

Yes, there is some good chemistry between the central leads and many skilful cinematic moments, but at 138 minutes it was all just too long. I waited and waited for an explanation at the end, which never came.

Decision to Leave is out in UK cinemas now.

Andrea Carnevali is a Bafta winning film maker who lives in Chiswick, and a co-creator of the Chiswick In Film festival.

See all Andrea’s film reviews here: Film reviews by Andrea Carnevali

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