The Architect

2006, Movie, R, 81 mins


Adapted from a 1996 stage play by acclaimed Scottish-born, Nigerian-raised playwright David Greig, Matt Tauber's directing debut is well intentioned but schematic. Greig is an issue-driven writer, and the issue here is the gulf between good intentions and good results as seen through the prism of urban public housing. Successful architect Leo Waters (Anthony LaPaglia) lives with his family on Chicago's suburban North Side. Single mother Tonya Neeley (Viola Davis) raised her family in the crime-ridden Eden Court Homes on the South Side, a project Leo designed as a young idealist enthralled to Le Corbusier's notion of the house as "a machine for living in." Tonya is spearheading a lonely campaign to have Eden Court demolished, arguing that the brutal architecture of the buildings is incompatible with the needs of residents struggling with poverty, crime, drugs, fractured families and a host of other problems. Though her petition has already attracted high-profile signers — including Oprah Winfrey — she sets her sights on Leo: What could send a more powerful message than to have the man who designed Eden Court call for its demolition? Leo resists — he doesn't believe the problem is in the inherent design, just the details — and, in any event, he's distracted by the disorder on his own house. His wife, Julia (Isabella Rossellini), is having a nervous breakdown after years of channeling her restless discontent into manic housekeeping; their perfectionist 15-year-old Christina (Hayden Panettiere) is developing body-image issues, and Christina's directionless brother Martin (Sebastian Stan) has just flunked out of college. Tonya's elder daughter (Marsha Stephanie Blake) is an unemployed teen mother, and Tonya's son committed suicide. Only Cammie (Serena Reeder), a high-school honors student, is thriving, and Tonya believes that's because Cammie is out of the projects, living with a family in the Waters' neighborhood and attending a well-funded suburban school. The story‚Äôs structure is overly configured, and Greig's characters feel less like people than bullet points — especially the supporting ones, such as principled trucker Joe (William Goggins), who doesn't take advantage of Christina; gangbanger-with-a-conscience Big Tim (Malcolm Goodwin); and Shawn (Paul James), the smart, sensitive gay teen who's getting ground down by project life. But LaPaglia and Davis deliver top-notch performances that go a long way toward offsetting the material's didacticism. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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