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SYNOPSIS: George and Serena Pemberton (Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence) are love-struck newly-weds who begin to build a timber empire in the North Carolina mountains at the end of the 1920s. Serena soon proves herself to be equal to any man and with power and influence in the Pembertons' hands, they refuse to let anyone stand in their way. However, once Serena discovers George's hidden past, their intense, passionate marriage starts to unravel as their story moves toward its shocking resolution.

Review by Louise Keller:
Greed and jealousy are the key elements of this dramatic misfire from Suzanne Bier in which even the power (re)pairing of Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence fails to ignite our interest. Adapted from a bleak period novel by Ron Hash, it is not the dark themes that detract but the lack of sympathy that we have for its characters. The beautiful Carolina setting with its dense forests filled with erect pine trees is a stunning backdrop for the 20s costumes and Harlow-esque hair but the denouement plays out as a senseless tragedy, the characters' innate weaknesses leading to their downfall.

The film begins with promise when Cooper's lumber king George Pemberton spies the glamorous Serena (Lawrence) elegantly riding her white horse, blonde hair flying behind her. She is described as 'beautiful, wounded and mad for trees'; at their first meeting George is not slow to come forward and tell her: 'I think we should be married'. The line brings a laugh. Serena's introduction into the male-dominated timber world is an interesting juxtaposition although it does not sit comfortably on any number of counts. Resentment is rife - with George's business advisor Buchanan (David Dencik), who appears to have some homosexual leanings, Rhys Ifan's ex crim Galloway with whom Serena becomes bonded and Toby Jones' Sheriff McDowell who is intent on exposing George's illegal dealings.

'Our love began the moment we met; nothing before that exists,' Serena tells George when she notices George's pregnant former lover Rachel (Ana Ularu). Her attitudes quickly change after his son is born and the promise of her own pregnancy is jeopardised. The lights in her eyes dim as her lust for life wanes and obsession sets in. Foul play and betrayal follow, the film's climactic scenes taking place on board a speeding train. This is one of the best scenes. As for the ending, it falls as flat as one of the felled pine trees, which goes to show that even a superb filmmaker like Bier cannot overcome the insurmountable. The film plays like a Barbara Stanwyck melodrama - without the pay off.

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(US, 2014)

CAST: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Toby Jones, Sean Harris, Rhys Ifans, Sam Reid, Ana Ularu, Blake Ritson, Charity Wakefield

PRODUCER: Ben Cosgrove, Mark Cuban, Paula Mae Schwartz, Todd Wagner, Nick Wechsler

DIRECTOR: Susanne Bier

SCRIPT: Christopher Kyle (book by Ron Hash)


EDITOR: Matthew Newman, Simon Webb, Pernille Bech Christensen (supervising editor)

MUSIC: Johan Soderqvist

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Richard Bridgland

RUNNING TIME: 109 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 27, 2014

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