2001, R, 91 min. Directed by Joel Hershman. Starring Clive Owen, Helen Mirren, Adam Fogerty, Danny Dyer, Warren Clarke, David Kelly, Paterson Joseph, Natasha Little.
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., Sept. 14, 2001
Just into the opening credits, as a forgettably peppy song plays on the soundtrack, the screen spells out a cringe-inducing caveat: “This story is inspired by actual events.” Oh god. That sort of tag attached to this sort of project generates a feeling not unlike the one gets, moments before opening a birthday present, when your grandmother leans over and confides, “I knitted that myself, you know.” Sight unseen, you know no matter how awful it is, you've simply got to feel heart-warmed. The same goes for Greenfingers, a treacly British import about prisoners finding rehabilitation via the soul-soothing effects of gardening. And bully for those real-life inmates who found solace in shrubbery; their story might have made for a good movie had the filmmakers not felt bound to produce something so irritatingly precious. Clive Owen -- the slickster from Croupier and those BMW Web commericals -- stars as Colin Briggs, a sullen (well wouldn't you be too?) prisoner serving out the tail end of a 15-year-sentence for manslaughter. At film's beginning, Colin is transferred to a minimum-security, experimental facility in the Cotswolds; there he finds a new, azalea-tinted look on life when aging prisoner Fergus Wilks (Kelly, Waking Ned Devine) slips him a pack of seeds and instructs him to plant, plant, plant. Soon, Colin has shed his bitterness and gone greenthumb softie, having assembled a magnificent garden with the aid of the eccentric Fergus and a self-consciously diverse assemblage of murderers and car-theft afficionados. A chance meeting with gardening expert Georgina Woodhouse (an embarrassingly flamboyant Mirren) brings the lock-down lads media attention and a chance at showing at the biggest competition in the gardening community, the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show. Now admittedly, Americans don't have quite the same reverence for gardening as do Britons (“women's work,” America scoffs and reaches for the remote and a beer); that fact may very well have something to do with my impression of the film as being an altogether pansy affair. That's my caveat. But what cultural prejudices can't explain away is the shallowness of the piece. It steadfastly refuses to acknowledge that flowers are not a fix-it-all for deeply imbedded criminality. The fact that these guys are killers is used as a punchline, not as an entryway for examining the rehabilitation process. And then there's the overacting. And then there's the hamminess of the script. And then there's the travel-brochure look to the film, vacantly pretty and oddly unstirring. And then there's the stomach-turning soundtrack (in one sunshine-y montage, the Boys of Cellblock Happy plant new seedlings to the tune of Tears for Fears' “Sowing the Seeds of Love.” I kid you not). Maybe I'm just a grump, sick of these predictable Brit feel-gooders intent upon wringing your neck with warm fuzzies. Maybe Greenfingers will turn the world on to the restorative powers of floratherapy. Maybe the movie will make you want to hug your grandmother for her heartwarming hand-knit potholders. Ya big sucker.