Charlie von Peterffy ‘24 / Entertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Recently, a new trend has emerged in the film world. Many youthful singer-songwriters have begun to enter Hollywood searching for a new acting career. While many fail, many others have succeeded; from Will Smith to Mark Wahlberg, singers have become wildly popular on the big screen. Harry Styles, renowned singer-songwriter and one of the leaders of the British boy band One Direction, has followed suit with glorious success. After starring in Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, Styles quickly became a frontrunner for many new projects. As a result, he appeared in dramatic pieces like Don’t Worry Darling and blockbuster flicks, such as his brief cameo as Marvel villain Thanos’ half-brother, Starfox, in Chloé Zhao’s critically panned Eternals. Moreover, Styles’ career has not only jump-started in a short timeframe, but it shows no signs of slowing down––whether he has the necessary talent to please or not.
Styles’ newest film, My Policeman, is about a gay policeman, Tom Burgess, who leads a double life in the 1950s. As homosexuality is fiercely hated, he hides his relationship with his older lover, Patrick Hazlewood (David Dawson). Burgess does everything he can to conceal his secret, including marrying a woman, Marion Taylor (Emma Corrin). However, as their marriage continues, it becomes increasingly more difficult for Burgess to hide the truth from Taylor and the surrounding world––and his world eventually crumbles. While this occurs, the film covers the aftermath of these events decades later. Marion Taylor (Gina McKee) and Tom Burgess (Linus Roache) try to save a struggling marriage as Hazlewood (Rupert Everett), due to his advanced age, deals with health issues. In both periods, the three must learn how to co-exist, accepting their flaws and forgiving each other for past actions––and understand how broken they have become.
Unfortunately, the film is too dry, sedated, and unconvincing to pass as well as it could. It desperately attempts to make a heartbreaking tale out of subpar performances, a sludge-filled narrative, and an underwhelming execution of the film’s source material. It delves into themes of tragedy sufficiently, especially in the second half, but these points drown out because of vague storytelling and flat characters. It gets its messages across in the end, but the journey there is painful and thus may not be worth it for most viewers.
The story, although effectively poignant, is poorly paced and unnecessarily contrived. Moreover, the film is heart wrenching through and through. By the end, the weight of these characters’ actions seeps through to the audience. It is effective, but unfortunately, it takes far too long to pay off. It spends too much time setting the stage for its final act, resulting in a boatload of exhaustive filler. This also waters down the film’s overarching messages, as they feel more forced than they could have been. If the filmmakers anchored the story in its vital elements more and cut the film down by a half hour, these flaws would wash away. Nevertheless, the way the film is now, the story contains intriguing messages but forgets to build to these crescendos naturally.
Plus, in an attempt to disguise its flaws, the film relies on its actors. While that works for its older ensemble, unfortunately, two of the three younger cast members are frankly uninteresting and emotionally void. Styles, surprisingly, is by far the least appealing of the three. He sourly misses every emotion necessary for this piece. When he cries, his face contorts to a neutral state; when he yells, he appears hammy; when he tries to be joyful or bubbly, he is instead wistful and always seems to be short of breath. As a result, he fails his role, removing any bits of nuance and charisma from it. His absence would significantly improve this film by leaps and bounds.
Corrin also struggles in many of the same ways, although less so. She has a constrictive range that limits her emotional expression like Styles, but she has many more compelling moments to balance out the wasteful ones. For the first two-thirds of the movie, she struggles to stand on her own, appearing more as a fleshy extra here only for Styles and Dawson’s characters to develop. However, in the final act, her true abilities finally shine as she shows the devastation of Tom and Marion’s affair effortlessly. The rest of the cast, fortunately, is excellent. They all bring resonating emotional personalities that uplift their characters’ experiences elegantly, balancing out the film’s quality against Styles and Corrin.
The characters themselves are well-rounded. All three experience life-changing events, altering them permanently by the film’s end. Moreover, they surprisingly feel fleshed out and change slowly and organically. However, because of the underwhelming performances, the young Burgess and Taylor teeter behind Hazlewood and the trio’s older selves. Without solid performances, characters can never reach their fullest potential, so these characters retain the same fate. These actors’ flaws do not hinder these characters heavily, though, so this flaw is more straightforward to forgive than the others.
The visuals are decent but nothing dazzling. The cinematography feels unfocused. Instead of using it to enhance character beats, messages, and emotions, it feels more like a means to get from point A to point B. It forgets to be intentional, thus disregarding the camera’s power. The filmmakers should have paid more attention to the camera’s ability, as they hampered the film’s emotional intensity by neglecting yet another component of its potential.
My Policeman fails to convey its bold themes and emotional impact. Spending far too long building to its climax, relying on mediocre performances and flat writing, and containing an unfocused visual sense, it loses itself in melodrama and aimless scenery. The film gets a lot better by the final act, where layered emotional damage and the performances of the older trio take over. Unfortunately, the buildup is just too shallow and overly elongated to enjoy. If you want to watch, skip to the last 40 or 50 minutes. The rest of it is unimportant.