The Phantom of the Opera (2004)
Directed by Joel Schumacher

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * *

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The Phantom (Gerard Butler), a mysterious, disfigured musical genius living in the sewers beneath the Opera Populaire, threatens, assaults, and murders various individuals in his efforts to advance the career of a young singer, Christine (Emmy Rossum), with whom he has become infatuated.

While I will admit that I am no admirer of Joel Schumacher's work, I have to concede that I did enjoy the director's version of Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera. The movie is deeply flawed, but it is also lavish, colorful, and often entertaining.

The story, which revolves around the Phantom's obsession with Christine, her love for another man, and the callous efforts of Carlotta (Minnie Driver), a vain diva, to exclude Christine from the limelight, is so wonderfully melodramatic and so delightfully overwrought that it is genuinely fun. While the viewer may be distracted from time to time by some awkward narrative device or by the syrupy sentimentality with which a number of the film's events are coated, the tale's delicious excesses, its theatrical flare, and its sheer vibrancy are always able to reignite his interest. The Phantom of the Opera is never boring.

Moreover, the sets and costumes used throughout the movie are wildly ornate, sumptuous, and absolutely stunning. There is, in fact, hardly a moment of the film that will not captivate the viewer simply because of its beautiful backdrops and the actors' lovely garments. Schumacher has conjured up a fabulous vision of some imaginary Nineteenth Century that boils with a sensual, passionate intensity.

Regrettably, as appealing as are the movie's scenery, costumes, and overheated histrionics, many of its other elements are lacking. The cinematography is forgettable. The narrative contains numerous contrived details, and the acting is occasionally unimpressive. Emmy Rossum does acquit herself well, although her performance is never inspired, and Minnie Driver, by playing an exaggerated caricature, is, for once, able to profit from her tendency to overact. Gerard Butler, however, is sometimes awkward, and Patrick Wilson, who plays Raoul, a dashing nobleman in love with Christine, is so wooden that nearly every moment he is on screen is truly painful to watch.

Even the music, while competently performed, is less than brilliant. Much of it is, frankly, trite, and none of it is likely to make a deep impression on the viewer. It is, nonetheless, pleasant to listen to. Even if it is not thrilling, it is entertaining. I should add that Webber's musical style simply does not appeal to me and that the faults I found with it may not be perceived by a person who is more appreciative of his work.

Taken as a whole, The Phantom of the Opera is so extravagant and melodramatic that it is enjoyable. It is, however, burdened with a number of weaknesses and is never really suffused with that unique quality that would raise it above the ordinary.

Review by Keith Allen

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