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Movie Review

The Disappearance of Alice Creed

A kidnapping thriller both complex and compelling

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By Mark Feeney
Globe Staff / September 17, 2010

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’’The Disappearance of Alice Creed’’ begins with a van being stolen and ends with a different stolen vehicle being driven away. In between comes a tight, efficient thriller with just three actors and at least two whopper switcheroos. You know that moment in “Reservoir Dogs’’ where Tim Roth says, “I’m a . . .’’ — well, maybe you don’t, so let’s not spoil the surprise. Anyway, the pair of plot twists here are comparably jaw-dropping.

“Alice Creed’’ isn’t as good as Tarantino’s directorial debut, or another movie it calls to mind, “A Simple Plan.’’ But the genetic resemblance to those two films indicates how good much of this extremely assured picture is. Writer-director J. Blakeson has taken a very simple premise — bad guys Eddie Marsan and Martin Compston kidnap rich girl Gemma Arterton and hold her for ransom — and added a few levels of moral and emotional complexity. Is it a coincidence that the relationship between Marsan and Compston takes on a Pozzo-and-Lucky vibe?

The movie opens with a long wordless montage of Marsan and Compston making preparations for the kidnapping: stealing that van, buying supplies, digging a hole in a forest, preparing an apartment/hideout. It comes as a shock to realize the first bit of dialogue, a single word, doesn’t occur until nearly six minutes in. The next one isn’t until the 10-minute mark. Blakeson’s speed and economy make it all work, with a big assist from Marc Canham’s spare and insistent score.

Arterton has a largely thankless role. Acting with a gag in your mouth can’t be much fun. Often kicking and screaming, literally, she gets more of a workout than she did in “Prince of Persia.’’ The various paraphernalia used on and around her — handcuffs, rope, ski masks — keep threatening to take the movie beyond noir nastiness to something gruesome. It never quite gets there.

Compston’s Danny is slightly blank and uneasy: Keanu Reeves raised on haggis. “This girl isn’t just theoretical,’’ he complains at one point. The way his Scottish accent wraps around “theoretical’’ is something to hear. The recipient of that complaint is Marsan’s Vic. He’s planner, boss, and constant raw nerve. Somehow he manages to be fussy and enraged at the same time. When he addresses Alice as “Miss Creed,’’ it doesn’t sound ridiculous. Courtesy, like brutality, is simply another way for Vic to show who’s in charge — or at least wants to be. Marsan has a genius (not too strong a word) for portraying small men smart enough to suspect their smallness but not so smart as to accept it.

A distinct pleasure of moviegoing over the past decade has been getting to watch Marsan’s emergence as one of the great, unique character actors. The biggest problem with “Alice Creed’’ is the implausibility of certain key plot points. There’s no problem accepting the biggest implausibility of all, though: Eddie Marsan as leading man (sort of).

Mark Feeney can be reached at mfeeney@globe.com.

THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ALICE CREED Written and directed by: J. Blakeson

Starring: Gemma Arterton, Eddie Marsan, Martin Compston

At: The Brattle Theatre

Running time: 104 minutes

Rated: R (violence, sexuality, nudity)

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