There are two problems this movie had going against it for me. The first is that same thing I complained about with BlacKKKlansman and White Boy Rick recently. They took a real story and fictionalized stuff. It’s a bit more acceptable with this story, since it’s hard to know anything that happened in Lizzie Borden’s home back in 1892. So go ahead, create dialogue, make the dad an overbearing jerk. Yet when you show him sexually assaulting the maid (and subtle implications that Lizzie may have been abused by him also) and create a love story involving Lizzie and the maid — none of which was ever proved (and barely speculated on at the time) — it’s odd.
The other complaint I have is, these murders, much like the Jack the Ripper case, are so intriguing because they were never solved. Well, it’s not like the Borden case needed to be solved. She was found not guilty of killing her parents, yet we know she killed them (wait…do we still have to say “allegedly” 126 years later?). Yet when we see her living her life, and how it all ends up transpiring…it makes a lot more sense. We live in a day and age now where we’ve heard about a number of kids charged with killing their parents (the most recent high profile case locally was in Rancho Santa Fe). So this film would’ve been a lot more interesting 50 years ago. Now you’re just watching a period piece, and one that’s rather boring most of the time. Beautifully shot, but slow.
The casting is great. Chloe Sevigny is terrific as Lizzie, and some of her cold stares are perfect. Kristen Stewart, who gets knocked for her acting style, was solid as the maid from Ireland (her accent worked).
The story we see here goes by the speculation that Lizzie was having a financial dispute with her wealthy father Andrew (Jamey Sheridan). He’s remarried, and his wife stands to inherit everything. He’s also rather stingy with his money, even when it comes to his own comfort by refusing to have indoor plumbing or electricity in the home (those facts are something I researched, and it seems to be one of the few things in this that are true). He disapproves of Lizzie going out alone to plays, without a male escort. She also has seizures, which are a source of embarrassment for pops.
It’s somewhat interesting watching an intelligent and rather headstrong woman deal with issues that at the time would’ve been a heck of a lot tougher than today.
The first half of the movie is a bit slow, but since we know what’s going to happen, it becomes a slow-burn that worked well enough.
I couldn’t find out if it was true that Lizzie had an uncle (Denis O’Hare playing John) that was a lawyer, and having himself written into the will, and Lizzie and sister Emma (Kim Dickens) out of it.
The axe murder scene (pretty sure a “spoiler alert” isn’t needed there) was rather powerful, although it felt a bit gratuitous (there’s full frontal nudity, and a full frontal chop to the cranium with an axe that bloodies up everything). It’s interesting seeing Lizzie cover her tracks. It makes you realize that, even 100 years ago, smart people planned their crimes well enough to get away with them. She does something with an axe handle that was rather clever.
This is the kind of movie the critics love, and my friends and viewers ask me, “What was all the hype about?”
It’s too early to say if this will get Oscar buzz, but I doubt you’ll hear much about this at awards season.
1 ½ stars out of 5.