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Swift Injustice

Hollow Reed
The Other Man: Ian Hart plays Tom Dixon, part of the extended dysfunctional family in "Hollow Reed."



'Reed' exposes the horror of battering

By Richard von Busack

A drama of family violence has to be done precisely and subtly or it ends up cheaper than the cheapest fiction. The violence ought to strike fast and end fast, without much preparation for the audience. Even if audiences harbor guilt--even if they have so much guilt that they want their nose rubbed in the problems of families savaging themselves--even people like that don't want to sit in a dark theater waiting in sick anticipation to see a child or a wife being struck. The British import Hollow Reed handles the problem absolutely right, even unto having no catharsis in the normal dramatic sense. There's no payback for the crime, no sense of vindication; the beating up of a small child Oliver, (Sam Bould), isn't avenged by the law or by the roaring of a vengeful mom. The batterer destroys his own chances for happiness with his temper. Spent after an outburst, reading the loss of the woman he loves in the look on her face, he still doesn't completely understand what just happened to him.

Oliver is all eyes. He watches the world from around corners and between the louvers of his window. Oliver's been turning up with vicious bruises and abrasions, and he has only vague, half-spoken stories to explain how it happened. Hannah (Joely Richardson), his mother, loves her son too much to question his tales. Oliver's father, Dr. Martyn Wyatt (Martin Donovan), is especially worried, but he's got enough guilt on his mind, for he was the one who left the marriage to go off and live with another man, Tom Dixon (Ian Hart). Director Angela Pope is setting up an engrossing mystery: Who is hurting Oliver? In her gravest miscalculation, she reveals the culprit too early.

The title might come from Pascal: "Man is only a reed, the weakest thing in nature, but he is a thinking reed." Pope's film isn't just a story of "decent gay people versus vicious breeders." There are crosscurrents here. These sufferers of domestic violence, for instance, are upper middle class; American actor Donovan, with his boxer's brow, is cast as a decent, meek guy who is hopeless in a fight. And there's one powerful performance in the end: Annette Badland as Martyn's barrister. She's a big, very rough-looking woman with the silky, richly syllabled voice of a fairy godmother.

Hollow Reed is a movie about family violence made mostly by women, and they bring a different approach in both small moments--including one of the only worthwhile two-man love scenes in a recent movie--and big ways. Hollow Reed is free of any sense of triumph or defeat. It treats a horrible problem as a horrible problem--a mess that isn't easily cleaned up with therapy and confession. This particular tough-mindedness gives a nightmarish tangle the respect due a serious problem. Anything more simplistic is patronizing, and if a "serious" film about family violence is going to be simplistic, I'd rather watch a movie about Martians.


Hollow Reed (Unrated; 106 min.), directed by Angela Pope, written by Neville Bolt and Paula Milne, photographed by Remi Adefarasin and starring Martin Donovan, Sam Bould, Joely Richardson and Tom Dixon.

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From the May 22-28, 1997 issue of Metro

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