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Alex (Ewan McGregor) a journalist, David (Christopher Eccleston) an accountant, and Juliet (Kerry Fox) a doctor, are three friends who share a flat in Glasgow, Scotland. They search for a new flat mate and eventually take in the mysterious Hugo (Keith Allen). Hugo suddenly dies of a drug overdose and the three friends discover Hugo left behind a very large amount of cash in a suitcase and what lengths they will go to keep the cash.
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A first for several involved in this film, Shallow Grave (1994) is a highly stimulating thriller, with an extremely gratifying twist at the end of the film. Shallow Grave has stellar performances, great directing, and to start it all of a fantastic script.
The story follows three best friends living together in Glasgow, Scotland in their mid 20s. Alex (McGregor) a journalist, David (Eccleston) an accountant, and Juliet (Fox) a doctor. The three together are a ridiculous bunch of very intimate friends that are fun, charismatic, but at the same time oddly despicable. Our heroes start by having an empty room in their flat, and begin the search for a flat mate. The trio put each of the potential flat mates through a rigorous interview of their personality and finds a different way to nearly torture all of them in a hilarious new manner each and every time.
After some nudging by Alex, the group decide to keep the money and dispose of the body. Alex is over confident that the group will get away with it, and it will be a simple process. However, none of the friends realize what lengths they must go to in order to keep the money and as different variables, including cops, the physical act of disposing the corpse, and drug dealers, complicate their lives: Alex, David, and Juliet’s dynamic friendship spirals out of control in a very Alfred Hitchcock type fashion through the course of the film.
The leads all give outstanding performances, and this being Ewan McGregor’s first feature film lead role, we see his potential as a charming and charismatic talent that leads to his amazing career in any of his following performances. Kerry Fox’s role is almost camouflaged, but still manages to win and delight the audience. Hands down, Christopher Eccleston takes the prize with his performance. Eccleston comes off as a boring accountant with his unattractive glasses and stern face, but after disposing of Hugo’s body he suddenly turns into a disturbed, creepy flat mate willing to do anything to keep his money safe. Together the group shows us what occurs to a group of friends that is willing of such horrifying actions for a suitcase full of cash. Eccleston takes the brunt of it by having to rid the bodies of their identities, i.e. hands, feet, and teeth. Meanwhile, McGregor and Fox try to enjoy their
Another first of Shallow Grave is John Hodge’s writing. The story itself is very simple and concise, but Hodge’s dialogue and actions between the flat mates is fantastic. The audience gets grasps how intimate and elitist the group is. At the same time, Hodge does not develop the characters enough, and there is hardly any moment where the audience can sympathize or engage with the characters. We actually know very little about all three, besides what’s on the surface, and yet Hodge still creeps viewers out and causes concern over the morality of Alex, David, and Juliet’s actions and betrayal in order to keep the money.
Acclaimed director Danny Boyle had his debut as a feature director in this film after years working as a producer and artistic director before that. Shallow Grave was a smash hit at the UK box office, and U.S. box office was able to surpass the film’s budget; therefore, starting Boyle off to a great career. Shallow Grave presents us with the beginning of Boyle’s directing style. Boyle’s pacing and visuals are seen here and common throughout the rest of his work. A repetitive notion in Boyle’s films is presenting the audience with a situation that has complex moral solutions. Shallow Grave questions what three friends are willing to do for stacks of cash, Trainspotting questions what some friends are willing to do for drugs and a hedonistic lifestyle, and 28 Days Later (2002) questions humans ability to deal with an apocalyptic world in order to survive.
Since Shallow Grave was released in 1994, Boyle and Hodge have gone on to work together in Trainspotting, A Life Less Ordinary (1997), and The Beach (2000), with Ewan McGregor starring in the first two. Boyle has impressively continued on making fantastic films time and time again; most recently the multi-Academy Award winning Slumdog Millionaire (2008), which helped a well-deserved Best Achievement in Directing Award for Danny Boyle. The same can be said about McGregor, with few exceptions. Obviously, I highly recommend Shallow Grave as a fun thriller to watch on any given night.This film won Best Director and Best Cinematography, and was nominated for five other categories. The screenwriter was nominated, and rightly so. Taken from a short story that first appeared in the Saturday Evening Post in 1933 by Maurice Walsh, Green Rushes, Frank Nugent was able to weave a story rich in subtext and conflict.
The collector’s edition of the DVD includes an interview with Maureen O’Hara where she reminisces about filming The Quiet Man, and is well worth watching.