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My friend recommended this film to me and I hadn't heard of it before so I was quite interested to find out what it was. Aside from being told I'd probably like it because it was 'my cuppa tea' that's all I knew about it, that and how Cillian Murphy was in it, and I do like him as an actor so that was enough to tempt me. I'm glad I gave it a watch. Whilst it wasn't the most exciting of films, nor really the most entertaining, it still managed to keep my attention as I wanted to know how things ended.
This was directed, and in part written, by Michael Lander, who doesn't really seem to have worked on anything else so this is his first and possibly only main piece. Peacock is one of those 'understated gems' because I hadn't heard or seen of it before. It's also quite tricky to come across on sites to buy, so I wouldn't say it's a big hit movie. This falls in to the psychological thriller genre so I was really keen to give it a watch. I avoided reading the blurb or any comments online beforehand so I really had little idea of what to expect.
We're introduced to John Skillpa, a working class guy with a job as a bank clerk in a small town called Peacock in Nebraska. John's a quiet guy, living under the radar and avoiding socialising, it seems, at all costs. Living alone in his house, he keeps to a strict routine and appears on the outside as a reserved and harmless man that some probably pity. But this isn't the John we're instantly introduced to. First we see a woman, dressed in a rather drab ensemble yet appearing fairly well refined and dedicated when it comes to keeping the house in order and food on the table at precisely the right time each day. This is John's 'other side', his alter ego, one he comes to call Emma. The alter ego he adopts is one that initially takes care of him, wearing the dress whilst doing the chores and preparing his breakfast. This is a tale of a split personality, or multiple personality disorder, a condition arising from childhood trauma inflicted at the hands of his abusive mother. Day in, day out, John/Emma have adopted a routine that is stuck to like clockwork, neither side of John knowing what the other side is doing it seems.
John's quietly invisible life, and second life as Emma, is rudely interrupted when a freak event crashes in to his world, quite literally. Part of a freight train derails and crashes smack bang in his back yard, disrupting 'Emma' from hanging out the washing. When the neighbours rush to the scene in disbelief, a shaken Emma is desperate to get inside and keep hidden, especially as no one has ever seen her before. Not knowing who the mystery woman was, rumour spreads and it's assumed that Emma is John's wife, which isn't too hard to believe given just how much he keeps himself to himself. Suddenly John becomes the talk of the town, much as this displeases him. He covers his second persona by telling neighbours and work that he married in secrecy, but the double act is hard to keep up because now Emma begins to take on a life of her own that John doesn't know about. The quiet, withdrawn 'woman' starts to venture out and talk to people, which is a dangerous game if her identity is to be kept, and things she says aren't always the things John would want her to say. On the outside, it looks as though the couple lack communication, with one never knowing what the other is doing or saying, and the two never been seen in public together.
With added interest in John and the train lodged in his garden thanks to the mayor and his wife wanting to use the scene as a backdrop for a rally, the strain on both John and Emma becomes apparent. Enter Maggie, another additional strain. A young single mother struggling to make ends meet and desperate to get out of town and start a new life, Maggie approaches John for help. She also approaches Emma, unbeknown to John, and it starts to seem that Maggie may be able to either unlock John's past or begin a dangerous battle between him and Emma.
I won't say anymore on the storyline but it's one that develops in to a drama genre as we watch characters develop and tensions mount. The premise has obvious psychological overtones and undertones as we watch a Norman Bates-esque performance play out, and the childhood trauma that nurtured the mental crack begin to unfold so as to provide some background explanation. I wouldn't say it was overly complex, however, as the basics were laid out quite clearly for the viewer. We know that John is playing Emma, we know roughly why, and we see both what goes on behind closed doors and what the public see. Nor does the story go too deep on the psychological front; I would have liked to have seen more on this side of things because of my interest in psychology, however I can understand that just giving us the basics, such as of his childhood abuse, was just enough to provide a rough explanation rather than bog the viewer down with too many depressing scenes or complex psychoanalysis of John's mental state.
The cast included Cillian Murphy (John / Emma Skillpa), Susan Sarandon (Fanny Crill), Keith Carradine (Major Ray Crill), Josh Lucas (Officer Tom McGonigle), Ellen Page (Maggie) and Bill Pullman (Edmund French) amongst others. It was good to see some familiar faces throughout the film as they made it enjoyable and that bit more credible, with each actor/actress playing their respective roles well. Murphy was fantastic as the protagonist characters, and did an amazingly good job at playing a woman (perhaps it's his super sculptured cheek bones?), bringing the characters to life in a believable fashion. This also meant I was able to empathise with characters and appreciate, even just a little, their situations and how they may feel. For instance, my heart really went out to John and the fact that I felt these things meant it was quite an emotive flick with acting that was good enough to relate to.
The film was fairly slow paced for the most part, providing a rather dark and drama-esque feel to the piece. The atmosphere was one of being on tension at times as we wonder what's going to happen and whether the truth will come out, whether things will go horribly wrong. There's an air of suspicion and questions generated by the scenes that engaged me to keep watching because I wanted answers. The film also felt quite realistic and down to earth because of its lack of shiny sparkle; there were no fancy effects, no over the top dramatic from any of the cast despite some popular names, and nothing to really distract us from the dark nature of the piece.
I don't think this is a film for everyone, in part because it's quite slow and in part because it is a little depressing. If, however, you can appreciate some good acting then it's worth watching for Murphy (and Page), and if you like psychological thrillers then this will probably be appealing also. I can't say I was necessarily riveted or thrilled by the film but I was definitely engaged, I just thought at times that it lacked a little something, be that some 'oomph' I can't quite put my finger on or just more psychological aspects to explain the split personality. The ending was a tad disappointing for me, not that it was 'bad' per se. I just would have liked a little more because I felt like it was slightly unfinished. Having said that, leaving it the way it did made me consider how things could go for John, what could possibly happen afterwards, and so in that sense I enjoyed that it was left open a little. Again, it was quite a sad ending to a rather sad piece, but one nonetheless that made me think, reflect and empathise.
This isn't a film that seems to have received little if any attention, so I doubt many people have heard much about it. I would say it's a little 'gem' that's very understated and perhaps holds an 'arty' appeal that could classify it as a cult flick.
All in all, I would recommend this as I enjoyed it for its change of pace, psychological undertones and great acting. I don't think it would be everyone's thing, however, and it can feel a little slow, but the patience paid off because by the end of it I felt an emotional tie to John that kept me thinking even after the credits had rolled.
DVD released 2010
Rated certificate 15, running time 87 minutes