In all honesty, Gosford Park was one of those movies I thought I’d really like. In fact, though I already knew from experience that expectations don’t always equal actual opinions, all the glowing reviews (“a joyous and audacious achievement”, raved Roger Ebert; “an effervescent mix of satire, affection, and devastating rebuke”, marveled Slate’s David Edelstein; “one of [Altman's] most richly moving and entertaining pictures”, proclaimed the Chicago Tribune’s Michael Wilmington), the fact that it won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, and the very funny trailer (so much for truth in advertising) admittedly had me convinced that I would absolutely love it. Unfortunately, I didn’t.
Now look, I don’t demand that every single second of a movie be filled with constant action and mayhem—in fact, the quieter moments are what really helped make Alien so chilling, Boyhood so moving, and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy so unusually gripping. I say that because Gosford Park was marketed as a murder mystery when, in fact, it is a very slow, very disjointed drama in which the murder doesn’t even happen until more than an hour has gone by.
Everything takes place at the big mansion of the title, in which there are about a million little plot threads that never add up to anything or even get a proper resolution (the ending is just a typical “this person did it!” reveal that had me thinking “So?”), resulting in the film being filled with completely random scenes of people sitting around in the house and talking. No, really.
Yeah, yeah, I know, there’s apparently a lot of commentary about the divide between the rich and the poor since the former live “Upstairs” and the latter live “Downstairs”, but the thing is, without any sort of compelling plot or characters, I just didn’t find any reason to care about that at all. A potentiallythought-provoking message does not a movie make.
From a technical standpoint, however, Gosford Parkis admittedly stellar. The cinematography, set designs, and music choices were all excellent, and even if I hadn’t already known about the other famed films Altman had directed (M*A*S*H, Nashville), I still would’ve realized from this one that he’s excellent at the job. Plus, there were a few moments of self-aware, subversively clever wit (mostly showcased in aforementioned trailer) that did have me chuckling a bit, so at least the film wasn’t a total drag from start to finish. But still, it got so painfully close to that that I actually found myself doubting the use of even finishing it.
Want a compelling, genuinely excellent satire of the class system? Watch Parasite. Want a good-old-fashioned murder mystery that isn’t boring for once? Watch Knives Out. Want a less plot-driven, more character-focused film? Watch The Last Picture Show. Just don’t watch this film, I beg you.
Note: Even Altman himself must have realized how dreadfully tedious the film was, for he admitted that he put so much swearing in it so it would get an R rating and keep kids, who he wisely realized wouldn't like it at all, from watching it. Smart move, man. A shame it wasn't enough to prevent me from flipping it on.