Bookish Mortimer Folchart (Brendan Fraser) and his teenage daughter Meggie (Eliza Bennett) have a rare gift. They are "Silvertongues". When they read a book aloud the characters come to life. Indeed, they can be "read out" into the real world. The only catch is that someone from the real world has to be "read in" to take their place. Ten years ago, Mortimer discovered this gift when he read a rare book called Inkheart. By mistake, he read out a thug called Capricorn (Andy Serkis) and read in his wife (Sienna Guillory). Now a confrontation beckons. Capricorn wants Mortimer to read out The Shadow - an evil power who will help Capricorn dominate the world: meanwhile Mortimer wants to read out his wife......
Thus we have the perfect set-up for a children's adventure story full of magic, wonder, peril, daring escapes and true love. But INKHEART feels heavy and lacks momentum. Instead of Matthew Vaughn's dazzling colour, wit and pace in STARDUST, Iain Softley's direction is as turgid as his grey brown colour palette. Moreover, the narrative structure has too much scampering about Italy after things or people that could easily have been condensed. But clunky direction aside, the fundamental problem is that the narrative is far more concerned with ideas than action - and action is subordinated to making a point. Author Cornelia Funke asks us whether, to quote Thomas Hardy, "character is fate"? If an author has written a character as a self-interested, callow man, can he triumph over this?
So, in this film, a relatively straightforward rescue narrative becomes a rather back-and-forth affair. We get to Capricorn's castle early on and are set for a big show-down. But a fascinating character called Dustfinger (Paul Bettany) throws the movie off track with a petty, self-interested and all too human evasion. Dustfinger wants to be read back into the book, and he desperately wants to prove to the author of Inkheart (Jim Broadbent) that he can be better than his written character. Bettany's performance is heart-breaking and stands in sharp contrast to the leaden performances from Fraser (whom I normally love) and the camp performances from Serkis, Mirren and Broadbent.The problem is that this very cerebral, very philosophical sub-plot leeches energy from the main storyline and distracts attention. Worse still, it raises expectations that it cannot satisfy given the constraints of the genre.
I am rather disappointed in this movie. Softley has directed movies with real panache and intellectual bite - notably THE WINGS OF THE DOVE. I very much enjoyed THE THIEF LORD - another Cornelia Funke adaptation. And I also very much like Brendan Fraser in his family adventure movies. But Fraser is done a disservice by material that is fundamentally not about adventure at all, but about self-reflection.
INKHEART is on release in Germany and the UK. It opens in Brazil on Christmas Day. It opens in Italy on January 9th and in Taiwan, Turkey and the US on January 23rd and in France on January 28th It opens in Argentina on February 5th, in the Netherlands on February 12th, in Russia on March 19th and in Finland on April 3rd.