Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 5, 2015)
For a romance based very loosely on history, we dig into 2015’s A Little Chaos. Set in the late 17th century, French King Louis XIV (Alan Rickman) wants gardens designed for his palace at Versailles.
Louis puts landscape designer André Le Notre (Matthias Schoenaerts) in charge of the project, and recruits additional professionals for this massive task. After a talent search, André hires Sabine de Barra (Kate Winslet), an Englishwoman who’s lived in France for two years.
This decision doesn’t come easily, as André takes offense at some of Sabine’s choices. However, her skills seem superior to those of the other candidates, so André feels compelled to pick the strongest designer. This launches them into a working relationship that eventually spills into the romantic realm.
With Chaos, Rickman attempts “triple-threat” status. Not only does he play a prominent character, but he also directs and co-writes the film. This marks his second turn behind the camera, as Rickman also wrote and directed 1997’s The Winter Guest. Beyond a cameo, though, Rickman didn’t act in the earlier film.
I always liked Rickman as an actor, so I felt curious to see what he’d bring to the table as writer/director. I never saw Guest, so Chaos marked my first glimpse of Rickman as filmmaker.
Given the personality Rickman tends to deliver onscreen, I expected something sassier than the fairly sappy Chaos. An opening credit that winks at the movie’s historical glibness hints that the film will follow a cheeky path, but beyond that little blurb, Chaos tends to take itself pretty seriously.
In and of itself, that’s not a bad thing, of course, as Chaos doesn’t need to be witty or impish. However, it could offer something peppier than the experience on display. Chaos seems more somber than it needs to be most of the time; outside of a flamboyant supporting turn from Stanley Tucci, we don’t get much to lighten the proceedings.
I wouldn’t mind the downbeat tone if Chaos dug out of its doldrums and gave us something at least moderately interesting. The story simply never feels like it goes anywhere. It moves at a ponderous pace but fails to use all that time to allow us entry into the characters. We might spend lots of time with Sabine and Andre, but those minutes don’t really get us closer to them. They remain bland, uninteresting personalities.
Rickman also doesn’t bring much life to the tale. Chaos feels flat and workmanlike. It doesn’t come across as a poorly made film, but it lacks imagination and verve. We see events shot and edited in such a conservative manner that the movie becomes even more sluggish.
The actors do fine in their roles, but they stay hamstrung due to the one-dimensional nature of the project. A Little Chaos fails to become an interesting historical drama or a compelling romance. It’s just a slow-moving bore.