November 10, 2014
Stonehearst Asylum was an institution for the mentally ill in Victorian era England. It was run by the stern and unconventional Dr. Silas Lamb (Ben Kingsley) when young Dr. Edward Newgate (Jim Sturgess) went there seeking further clinical experience to be an "alienist" (the archaic term for psychiatrist). However, as he got to know the patients better, particularly the elegant Mrs. Eliza Graves (Kate Beckinsale), Newgate discovered that there was something seriously wrong afoot in the asylum. Newgate had to figure out quickly what was going on as his very life also lay on the line.
Jim Sturgess is quite a versatile actor in the few films I have seen him in. From a nobleman in "The Other Boleyn Girl" to a card shark in "21" then to a hopeless romantic in "Upside Down" to his multiple roles on "Cloud Atlas", this guy is a chameleon. I did not even recognize him at all in this role, with all the facial hair he was sporting. He played the perfect doctor here, effectively projecting kindness, compassion and the will to be of help and service despite all odds and threats.
Kate Beckinsale first gained wide attention in "Pearl Harbor" back in 2001. She never really became a superstar even if she starred and is remembered for supernatural action films like "Van Helsing" and "Underworld". Her character Eliza is purposely written to be mysterious here, and she did well enough in it just by looking too ironically beautiful and well-dressed to be an asylum patient.
Ben Kingsley always had that ability to act like his character is teetering between sanity and madness, and he does so very well again here, with stone-faced glee. He can really command the screen whenever he is on. Other respected veteran actors Michael Caine and Brendan Gleeson are also in there, both also playing doctors, but sadly, with so much shorter screen time than we would like them to have.
Sophie Kennedy Clark plays a playful young nurse Millie who provides some humor in the tense proceedings in the first half. If you only knew David Thewlis as the kind werewolf professor Remus Lupin in the Harry Potter films, you've got another thing coming here with his mad, over-the-top performance as the asylum groundskeeper Mickey Finn.
"Stonehearst Asylum" is a gorgeous period film with meticulous production design and richly detailed costumes. Director Brad Anderson creates a dark Gothic mood perfect for the delivery of this crazy and twisted story written by Joe Gangemi, based on a short story by master of classic suspense himself, Edgar Allan Poe entitled "The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether". The topnotch British cast make up for whatever the script and direction may have lacked. Despite the drab title and weak promotional push, fans of gothic romance and mystery will enjoy every twist and turn this dark yet entertaining film had to reveal. 7/10.