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Entertainment One Films US

MOVIE REVIEW
Maps to the Stars (2014)

Bruce Wagner's novel "Dead Stars" — the sister-mother to his script for David Cronenberg's "Maps to the Stars" once the production process had run its course — is fevered and fixated: a tirade about the sight of Hollywood parents and their kids locked in self-destruction. Its presiding spirits could include Terry Richardson, who's miraculously never actually mentioned; and whoever first hacked into Jennifer Lawrence's iCloud, whose coming is practically foretold. If Mr. Cronenberg had made his film equally feverish it might be easier to embrace, but instead he applies a bucket of cold water. Any actual zeitgeist is given such a wide berth that everything happens in a safely isolated sandpit, somewhere in a Never-Never-La-La-Land.

Chilly or not, "Maps" pushes the style Mr. Cronenberg adopted in "Cosmopolis" up another notch, hemming the characters within one-shots and cutting to empty rooms a few long seconds before anyone enters — a tactic which inevitably veers into David Lynch territory. In fact, there's some dreamy Lynchian ambiguity about the whole thing. Agatha (Mia Wasikowska), her face burned and arms permanently gloved, snakes her way into the life of frayed and fraying actor Havana (Julianne Moore) while spooking the hell out of married couple Stafford (John Cusack) and Christina (Olivia Williams) for reasons buried deep in the plot. Awful things have either happened to all of them or lie in wait; but the first two characters are much more vivid than the second pair — especially Ms. Moore's wailing celebrity monster, desperate to inhabit her own dead mother like some ancient pagan consuming a relative's flesh.

Mr. Cronenberg's skills as an adaptor of other people's works are by now beyond question, although his tactic in "Maps" seems to be to sublimate himself into the material more than usual. The Cronenberg method has always involved collaboration — Peter Suschitzky's photography and Howard Shore's music do their magic here as per usual — but the presiding spirit in "Maps" is none other than Bruce Wagner, to the point where the biggest dose of déjà vu is remembering Mr. Wagner's TV series "Wild Palms" from a whole two decades ago. The film's black central business — of incestuous mental wreckage being scoured clean in a land of wildfires — is a deliciously nasty construction; and for once Mr. Cronenberg's fearsome skills with the autopsy tools seem coyly deferential to the material. The operation was a success, but the patient survived.

MAPS TO THE STARS

Opens on Sept. 26 in Britain and on Feb. 27, 2015 in the United States

Directed by David Cronenberg; written by Bruce Wagner; director of photography, Peter Suschitzky; edited by Ronald Sanders; music by Howard Shore; production design by Carol Spier; costumes by Denise Cronenberg; produced by Martin Katz and Saïd Ben Saïd; released by Entertainment One (Britain) and Focus World (United States). Running time: 1 hour 51 minutes. This film is rated 18 by B.B.F.C. and R by M.P.A.A.

WITH: Julianne Moore (Havana Segrand), Mia Wasikowska (Agatha Weiss), Olivia Williams (Cristina Weiss), Evan Bird (Benjie Weiss), Sarah Gadon (Clarice Taggart), Niamh Wilson (Sam), Dawn Greenhalgh (Genie), John Cusack (Dr. Stafford Weiss) and Robert Pattinson (Jerome Fontana).

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