[MOVIE REVIEW]A classy, copious whodunit

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[MOVIE REVIEW]A classy, copious whodunit

In the real world, the death of a friend would cause a lot of grief and sorrow, especially it if happened while he was hosting a classy party. But in "Gosford Park," which opens Friday on local screens, death -- or more precisely, murder -- spurs its witnesses to be happy and iron out their long-pending troubles. Though the film is dressed like a British drama about upper-crust society, like Jane Austen's "Sense and Sensibility," it plays out more like an Agatha Christie mystery.?

The movie employs Robert Altman's signature style, making it intriguingly perplexing. No protagonist steps forward to give the story clear meaning or direction. Every character, and there are many, has a twisted story to tell. The result is a microcosm of humanity contained in a huge mansion in the English countryside. The stately home is owned by the McCordle family, and it is 1932.?

On a weekend, the family invites friends and relatives along with their maids and valets for a shooting party. The guest list includes a graying, sinking but still fiercely proud countess and her caring and innocent maid, a movie producer from Hollywood, an arrogant American actor, a World War I veteran, and a cast of seemingly hundreds more. The camera busily moves from upstairs where the guests are hobnobbing to downstairs where the servants are working, and from this clique to that.

William McCordle (Michael Gambon) is the elderly patriarch of the Cordle family and something of a lecher.?His wife, Lady Sylvia (Kristin Scott Thomas), who can thank her position as William's spouse to the outcome of a card game, doesn't just sit with arms folded ?she has her own secrets, as does her daughter and everyone else in the house.

Suddenly, William is found dead -- evidently he was poisoned, then stabbed. The camera searches for suspects, many of whom are branded with plausible motives, and the mystery just gets deeper and deeper.

But unexpected twists and hints scattered throughout the scenes keep this movie fascinating. The mysteries and secrets are presented like a puzzle impossible to solve, but you have to try.

The director, Robert Altman, commendably abstains from moralizing here. Instead he lays bare every human character, complete with complications, emotions and reactions, and beautifully orchestrates a complicated and unfocused plot line. Rarely is confusion so daunting and stimulating at the same time.

by Chun Su-jin

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