Claire Dolan

             Director Lodge Kerrigan made a splash in the indie world in 1993
     with his first film, the disturbingly edgy
CLEAN, SHAVEN. It took five
     years for his follow-up,
CLAIRE DOLAN, to see the light when it screened
     at Cannes in 1998 and another two before this character study of a call
     girl received a release in the USA.

             This is not the territory of Hollywood hookers like Julia Roberts'
       PRETTY WOMAN but more of the ilk of Jane Fonda's Bree in KLUTE,
     directed by Alan J. Pakula. With the extraordinary Katrin Cartlidge in the
     title role, Kerrigan's film provides a fascinating look at a woman driven by
     desperation into a world that she more or less play-acts. Cartlidge's Claire
     is a Dublin-born girl who has settled in Manhattan and works for the
     mysterious and ominous Roland Cain (a finely modulated and eerily
     effective turn by Colm Meaney). The audience immediately is thrust into
     Claire's sterile and colorless world. When she works, Claire tends to dress
     in beige or ecru. Her apartment looks as if it were just photographed for a
     magazine -- everything in its proper place. We watch as she sets up dates,
     has sex with a client and then checks her messages only to learn that her
     mother has died. Cain has been paying for her mother's care and while it
     is not completely spelled out (Kerrigan leaves a lot of blanks for the viewer
     to fill in), one can presume that this is part of the debt she owes to him.

             Devastated by her mother's passing, Claire moves into an almost
     depressed state. Cartlidge perfectly captures the pangs of grief and guilt
     Claire is obviously feeling, along with some of the self-loathing that she
     is debasing herself. Yet, one gets the feeling that Claire also enjoys the
     scene. She approaches it as an actress would a role, donning a costume,
     even adopting a pseudonym for her clients. Driven to the brink by the
     events in her life, Claire attempts to run away from it all and flees from
     New York City to nearby Newark where she has relatives. Attempting to
     form a somewhat normal life, she reconnects with her cousin and the
     cousin's young daughter and finds employment as a beautician. Menaced
     by a local thug who threatens to rape her, she resorts to her other
     persona and deflates his threats by asking to have sex with his friend first
     "because he's better looking". Unhappy that she can so easily slip back
     into that character, Claire determines to persevere.

             Yet she has this uncanny sense of being followed and that paranoia
     propels her into a relationship with cab owner Elton (Vincent D'Onofrio), a
     pleasant enough guy who seems to offer a more stable life. But Claire
     cannot escape her past. Cain locates her and forces her to return to her old
     life where she becomes even more robotic. Elton sensing she hasn't been
     entirely forthcoming follows her and discovers the truth, yet opts to try
     to preserve their relationship, even loaning her money to put toward
     her debt.

             Kerrigan refuse to provide snap answers and some may be frustrated
     at not having everything spoon fed or spelled out. There is an air of mystery
     to Claire that is never fully revealed; the audience is given glimpses but
     must draw its own conclusions and undoubtedly some members will be
     off put by that notion. But Cartlidge's delicately nuanced, finely wrought
     performance anchors the film and makes it worth seeing. Having already
     demonstrated her range in films as varied as
       CAREER GIRLS Cartlidge here rises to new heights. Like both Emily
     Watson and Cate Blanchett, she has malleable features that can appear
     plain one moment and luminous the next. And like those other ladies,
     she projects both strength and intelligence.

             Except for D'Onofrio and Meaney, the remainder of the rather large
     cast come and go fairly quickly with very few making any impression -- two
     exceptions are stage veteran Lola Pashalinski as a garrulous client in the
     beauty salon and Tom Gilroy as a john willing to pay big bucks for a sex act.

                                                 Rating:                B
© 2008 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.