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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

Holy Smoke (1999)



Reviews and Comments

Holy Smoke starts well. The premise is that a young woman gets caught up in a cult in India, and her family tricks her into returning and delivers her into the hands of a man who deprograms ex-cult members in a one-on-one three day program. If the story had continued along those lines, I imagine it would have made for a compelling film. Certainly the two stars, Kate Winslet and Harvey Keitel, have a way of commanding one's attention.

But writers Jane and Anna Campion (with Jane Campion directing) fall flat on their faces when they try to get all clever by turning the tables. Winslet's character is shaken from the cult but achieves the upper hand and all but destroys Keitel's. What is being said here? I can't think of any savory answers. It looks like a man-hate soapbox to me, but it hardly matters -- the characters are so unbelievable, morphing through one inexplicable change after another, that by the end I had lost all hope that the story would unfold rationally. With actors like these, it's not the performances that are problematic; the script simply fails to make the story the least bit convincing.