Someone needs to get to the suits in Hollywood and tell them that not every classic film needs to be reimagined.
“Rebecca” is based on the 1938 book of the same name, which was famously adapted by Alfred Hitchcock in 1940 (his only Best Picture winner). The plot follows a newlywed couple (Armie Hammer and Lily James) that is haunted by the memory of the husband’s deceased wife. Kristin Scott Thomas, Tom Goodman-Hill, Keeley Hawes, Sam Riley, and Ann Dowd also star, while Ben Wheatley directs.
Remaking classic films is nothing new, Hollywood has been doing it for years (such as “True Grit,” “Ben-Hur,” and “A Star Is Born,” which gets dusted off every 20 years), and it’s very rare they are actually worth revisiting (“A Star Is Born” is ironically probably one of the few films that perfectly balances paying homage to the source material while also adding its own style). While “Rebecca” is not a straight-up remake of Hitchcock’s film, it is based on the same book and thus follows the same beats, and while I have not seen the 1940 original, this 2020 version simply never justifies its own existence.
Armie Hammer has had an odd but quietly successful career thus far, coming onto the scene in 2010 with his dual performance in “The Social Network.” After being the titular role in the notorious box office bomb “The Lone Ranger,” he has done small supporting roles in things like “Sorry to Bother You” and earned award talks for “Call Me by Your Name.” An American, Hammer makes attempts to carry a British accent here (the film is set in Europe and the rest of the cast is naturally British) and about halfway through the runtime decides to just drop it (seriously, there are lines of dialogue that are flat-out Californian dialect). He tries to have a sense of mystery about his character, but it never really comes off much better than what “Fifty Shades of Grey” tried to do with Christian Grey.
Lily James is always dorky and charming, and here she is fine. She is supposed to go through this gradual change as the film progresses, with one character saying she has lost her innocence, but that is never organically portrayed on-screen. She also suddenly becomes an expert in law, medical science, and anything else the plot needs from her, and it’s just lazy writing.
From a production standpoint, the film looks great. Seriously, the cinematography by Laurie Rose, especially in the early scenes set in the French Riviera, are gorgeous and lit perfectly. The attention to detail by the production design crew is to be commended, and it at least keeps you mildly intrigued when the plot consistently does not. That being said the editing is at times nonsensical, with overlays and quick cuts that add nothing but disorienting confusion.
“Rebecca” is luscious on the outside but hallow on the inside, and despite being an easily-accessible Netflix movie is not worth a watch. There is no true conflict until the final 20 minutes, and there is simply nothing here that we have not seen done before, and done better. In the film, Hammer never wants to talk about his wife Rebecca, and I don’t want to ever think about her again, either.
Critics Rating: 4/10