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Chris Kavan's Movie Reviews (3346)

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Lizzie (2018) 
Lizzie Has an Axe to Grind
2.5/4 stars

True stories are always so much better when there is room for speculation. The story of Lizzie Borden has been told and re-told through books and film with plenty of theories put forth. What is known is that on August 4, 1892, Lizzie's father and step-mother were brutally murdered, with an axe being the weapon of choice. Following a sensational trial, with Lizzie as the main suspect, she was ultimately acquitted, though the reputation she garnered stayed with her for the rest of her life.

In this film, Lizzie (Chlo Sevigny) is presented as a sheltered though quite forward woman. Her father, Andrew (Jamey Sheridan) tries to keep her in check, but she does scandalous things like go out at night unaccompanied and remains unmarried despite her advancing age. She shows little but contempt for her step-mother, Abby (Fiona Shaw). She suffers from fainting spells as well, brought on seemingly by high stress. Her father hires an Irish maid, Bridget Sullivan (Kristen Stewart) to help around the house. The Borden household is not a happy place, not just because of Lizzie but also because a series of threatening notes have the entire house on edge.

This in turn makes Andrew contemplate his will, and Lizzie realizes her father, with the intervention of her scheming uncle John Morse (Denis O'Hare) is going to leave nearly everything to his new wife and virtually to Lizzie and her sister, Emma (Kim Dickens). The resentment continues to grow and when Lizzie develops a very close relationship with Bridget that goes beyond just friendship, it pushes things to the breaking point when her father finds out.

As a period piece, Lizzie works well though it is a bit dry for my taste. The casting is well done, though I really wish Dickens and O'Hare were given more screen time and the relationship between Lizzie and Bridget was explored a bit more. The movie is a slow burn, but a bit too slow in my eyes. But it does a good job of portraying how women were treated - and I felt as bad for Lizzie as I did her step-mother and worse for Bridget, who had to suffer abuse as the hands of her "master" just because it was a prestigious position for her status. It is hard to say how fast and loose the film played with actual facts, though the the story the film went with certainly makes things more interesting.

The best part of Lizzie is watching the tension ramp up with each interaction - and seeing how the end result plays out. Sevigny gives Lizzie a lot of depth and though I have never been a huge fan of Stewart, she also does a great job of playing the servant, both as she acts with Lizzie and with the rest of the household. The movie puts its own spin on the events and though it may not sit well with everyone, I think the choice pays off.


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