Dorian Gray (2009)
When classical literature is handled by a filmmaker with such sense of style and visuals as demonstrated by British director Oliver Parker in this adaptation, you become increasingly aware of the fact that few original screenplays can match the depth and relevance of literary works which have come out on top after a century of readings and criticism. Oscar Wilde's only novel "The Picture of Dorian Gray", about a young man in 1890s London who sells his soul for a life of eternal youth, beauty and hedonism, the effects of which are only shown on his increasingly marred portrait, is a powerful tale of self-deception, obsession and selfishness, full of parallels to our time, and perhaps even more relevant today than it was when it was first released. As with the book, the film has a pureness in style which gives it a timeless quality.
In this adaptation, screenwriter Toby Finlay plays out Wilde's homoerotic insinuations and is not afraid to let Dorian Gray and Lord Henry Wotton indulge in life's carnal pleasures. This modernization is welcomed, in my opinion, as it is arguably merely an enunciation of all the implicitness in Wilde's novel. The film is visually updated for 2009, but in essence and moral discussion, it retains all the complexity of the original.
The film is magnificently shot, portraying 1890s London in a delicate combination of gloss and filth, and it is full of expressive compositions and juxtapositions which are both artistically and intellectually satisfactory. And the story is so facetted that it is bound to stick with you for quite some time. The title character is played with empathy by young Ben Barnes, who is able to convey Dorian's transition from unspoiled, receptive apprentice to cynical, paranoid exploiter. Barnes is enigmatic as well, something which combined with Parker's elegant shifts in mood and tone, from cheerful and uplifting to sinister and ominous, makes the film all through intense, even if you already know how the story will unfold. With Colin Firth, Ben Chaplin and Rachel Hurd-Wood complementing this gem of film with fine support.