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DVD: Peacock (2009)
DVD Transfer: 
Very Good
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Very Good
Maple (Canada) / Lionsgate (U.S.A.)
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1 (NTSC)

April 20, 2010




Genre: Psychological Suspense / Drama  
A man's dual mental identities, one male and one female, battle for dominance when a freak accident turns the town's attention towards his intensely private life.  



Directed by:

Michael Lander
Screenplay by: Michael Lander, Ryan O Roy
Music by: Brian Reitzell
Produced by: Barry Mendel, Ryan O Roy

Cillian Murphy, Susan Sarandon, Ellen Page, Josh Lucas, Bill Pullman, and Keith Carradine.

Film Length: 90 mins
Process/Ratio: 1.85:1
Anamorphic DVD: Yes
Languages:  English Dolby Digital 5.1, English Dolby Surround 2.0
Subtitles:  English, Spanish
Special Features :  

Alternate Ending (2:32) / 2 Featurettes : "Welcome to Peacock - Behind the Scenes" (21:21) + "Cillian Rehearses Scenes" (3:21) / 4 Deleted Scenes (3:57 + 3:07 + 1:40 + 1:08) with Play All option / DVD-ROM: Original Script in PDF format

Comments :

What read great on paper proved much tougher to create on film, which is probably why Peacock (2010) went straight to video in spite of being loaded with top pedigree in major and minor roles.

Essentially a psychological suspense-drama about dissociative identity disorder (formerly branded multiple personality disorder), the script is somewhat reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), minus the serial killer and taxidermy hobby that made Ed Gein a pop culture icon.

Cillian Murphy gives a beautifully nuanced performance as John Skillpa, a lonely man who creates an alter ego named Emma after his mother’s death. Each morning when the alarm goes off, ‘Emma’ gets up to do the laundry, clean up the house, make breakfast, lunch and dinner, and leaves little notes so ‘John’ can go through the day’s steps unhindered.

At precisely 8:15am, Emma heads back up to the bedroom, changes clothes, and down comes John, grabbing breakfast and heading off to the small town bank, where he sorts through files before heading home. After dinner, he goes to bed, and repeats the process that’s been in play for a year. That all gets shattered when a loose caboose from a passing train crashes into his backyard, and neighbours find a strange woman named Emma lying by the torn clothesline, and not John.

That’s essentially the film’s first 10 minutes, after which the drama focuses on John’s inability to hide Emma from the town, as well as a young mother (Ellen Page) who shows up one night at his door with a small child, looking for money.

Working with a superb cast, director/co-writer Michael Lander balances mood with atmosphere, and the film remains a psychological suspense-drama rather than the brooding horror film the DVD’s copy art makes it out to be.

Peacock makes sense, but only if one recognizes the disorder that’s at the root of John/Emma, but there’s also the conceit that no one in town notices the physical resemblance between John/Emma under the clothes and makeup changes, nor the suspicious habit that both are never together at the same time. That’s almost solved by Murphy’s dual performance, since he went to great pains at creating distinct physical personas for the boy trying to behave like a man, and the woman who grows stronger when a protective motherly instinct threatens John’s life.

Neither John nor Emma are aware of each other’s existence, and whomever’s dominant elaborates on a fake marriage scenario when neighbours, his boss, and the local cop start asking details about the strange woman nearly flattened by the caboose.

Great care went into the film’s vintage late sixties look, from production design to makeup, as well as sedate Iowa locations, set décor, and Phillippe Rousselot’s gorgeous cinematography evokes an eerie, still small town world where there’s at least one person living a dark secret life.

The score by Brian Reitzell (30 Days of Night) is very low-key, and only bubbles to the surface when John’s inner psychological war goes into overdrive; most of the music is stays distant, and doesn’t cheat the audience into thinking the film is headed for graphic horror imagery.

A second viewing may help viewers comprehend the story, but Peacock is such a strange film. The tone is particularly uneven in the bank office scenes because no matter how careful Murphy plays an emotionally stunted John, his efforts are somewhat ruined by a weird cartoon ambiance stemming from Bill Pullman’s broad portrayal of the bank’s manager, and Keith Carradine’s lightly comedic bank owner.

Even if one tries to iron out the story into a simple synopsis (which isn’t easy), it’s still surprising Peacock got financing. Clearly the concept and the characters where intriguing because the writers avoided genre clichés, but for the first half hour, the films deals with John and Emma discovering each other’s personal secrets, and at the first third, things could go in several directions – grisly horror, sadistic slasher, mordant thriller – but stays within the realms of a dark, murky psycho-drama.

There’s also the finale that infers a cyclical path for John/Emma, as one of the dual personalities – much as in Psycho’s ending – becomes the dominant. In the final edit, there’s a coda dealing with Page’s character, but in the alternate ending, the coda’s been completely removed, making the finale far more ambiguous.

Lander’s efforts to create something fresh and less bloodless in an oft-abused genre are valiant, but shifting tones and a  slow-burning plot makes Peacock tough going, if not frustrating.

The DVD comes a PDF version of the original script, deleted scenes (none adding anything vital), and the alternate ending, There’s also an extract of Murphy’s rehearsal footage with director Lander, and a decent making-of featurette that lets the filmmakers explain the story they attempted to film.

Lander also describes the project’s genesis, starting as a feature film debut project in Fox Searchlight’s young filmmaker program, then making its way to Mandate Pictures, and after a reportedly 3-year development and production period ending in 2009, getting a direct-to-DVD release via Lionsgate (U.S.A.) and Maple (Canada) in the spring of 2010, which is quite a route.


© 2010 Mark R. Hasan

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