Blindness finds its way out of the darkness and into a muddled plotline that does the bestselling book it's based on no favors.
Based on acclaimed Portuguese author Jose Saramago's bestseller, a dark fable that saw an epidemic of blindness take over the entire globe, the story now has a more linear interpretation on screen. A city is slowly enveloped with a virus that causes white blindness. The early victims are then quarantined in a hellhole that fosters degrading acts and power plays by one group over the other. All rules of society break down as the blind don't lead the blind--they take advantage of each other, including a gang rape perpetrated on the women by a male faction led by Gael Garcia Bernal. There is one woman (Julianne Moore), married to a doctor (Mark Ruffalo), who actually is the only one who has still retained her sight but she doesn't let on to that fact for most in the facility. She puts a small band of people together and proceeds to lead them out of the darkness of the snake pit they have been thrown into and back to life in the ravaged city.
Despite the grim nature of the story and the somewhat stereotyped nature of many characters in it, Blindness can be thankful to have the luminous presence of Julianne Moore, perhaps the gutsiest actress working in film today. There doesn't seem to be anything she can't--or won't--do for the sake of a movie, and once again she's a strong, centered heroine trying to rise above the most dire circumstances and help others in distress. She's also gone blonde for the role of the Doctor's Wife whose ordered existence is turned upside down when she is suddenly thrust into the most harrowing situation imaginable. Ruffalo does well as the Doctor (none of the characters have been given names, just descriptions) and makes his blindness completely credible. So do the other principals, including Danny Glover as the Man with the Black Eye Patch and Alicia Braga as the Woman with Dark Glasses. Bernal is properly grimy and despicable as the self titled King of Ward Three. The rape act he leads is disturbing and may be a difficult sit for squeamish members of the audience.
It's easy to see why director Fernando Meirelles (City of God, The Constant Gardener) would want to bring Saramago's work to the screen. It offers opportunity for exploration of human behavior in the best and worst of circumstances and serves as a fable for our troubled planet. Something was lost in the translation, though (the screenplay is by actor Don McKellar), and clearly the director has encountered trouble in striking just the right tone to bring the unique flavor of the book to the screen. In fact, there have already been two versions. The first, which opened the Cannes Film Festival in May, featured a lot of whimsical narration by Glover's character, giving it a much different feel, but was not well received by critics. Meirelles, who rushed to finish the film in time for Cannes, went back into the editing room and jettisoned all of Glover's narration. This version is more straightforward but quite frankly seems to have lost its voice. Whatever the initial version's faults, it was genuinely unique and seemed to capture the flavor of the book, which was a very internal read to begin with. Meirelles and his cinematographer, Cear Charlone, have also lightened the picture from the darker palette shown in Cannes. This is a big improvement, but the overall experience is still a tough slog. It all feels like we are locked in a mental ward with these characters, and as a captive audience, you may feel like escaping early too.
Hollywood.com rated this film 2 stars.