Harry Styles Struggles Through Troubled Love Triangle

Dec 19, 2022

This review was originally part of our 2022 Toronto International Film Festival coverage.

The first feature film musician Harry Styles was in, Dunkirk, you almost wouldn’t have noticed his character if you weren’t looking for him. His second, Don’t Worry Darling, is one that you can’t miss hearing about even as little of it is about his performance. It is worth acknowledging his short cinematic career to put into context just how undefined his on-screen presence is. While this can be good in that there is room for him to leave his mark, it is also potentially perilous in that he hasn’t worked out what type of actor that he really wants to be yet. With his latest, My Policeman, we see that the search is still ongoing with no clear answers having been found yet. However, this time his inexperience as an actor is itself reflected in the character he is portraying in ways that are more interesting than the film itself.
In adapting the novel of the same name by Bethan Roberts, director Michael Grandage places us in two timelines of a fraught love triangle. In 1950s Brighton, we get introduced to an aspiring schoolteacher Marion (Emma Corrin) who takes a liking to the dashing policeman Tom (Styles) and begins going on various dates with him. The duo then forms a connection with a somewhat older man named Patrick (David Dawson) who accompanies them on their various outings. This includes the museum where Patrick works and a recital where Tom falls asleep. What soon becomes abundantly clear, to the audience at least, is that Tom and Patrick are actually having an affair. Marion has been made into an unwitting beard for them.

Several decades later, in what is also the opening scene, we see all these same characters have grown older and are carrying with them pain that they have tried to bury in the past. Marion (Gina McKee) is preparing the home she shares with Tom (Linus Roache) to welcome a guest in ailing health. Enter Patrick (Rupert Everett) who has just had a serious stroke and is now hardly able to speak. He still is aware of the world around him, frequently trying to get a smoke despite warnings that it could worsen his health, but is clearly in immense pain. While Marion tries to care for him, Tom won’t even acknowledge his presence and flies into a rage whenever it is brought up to him. He refuses to even discuss the past, disengaging at any moment it is even tangentially referenced. Frustrated by this, Marion begins reading through Patrick’s diary that she discovered in his personal possessions to better understand him.

Image via Amazon Studios

RELATED: ‘My Policeman’ Director Fully Understood Harry Styles’ Star Power When Casting News Got Out

The film then becomes one defined by the tension that is socially, emotionally, and sexually repressed. Marion desires Tom, though he hardly touches her, resulting in her confusion turning to anger and panic about what is going on. Tom desires to be with Patrick though can never speak about it to anyone for fear of being found out by a brutally repressive society that criminalizes homosexuality. This explodes in one moment when the three share dinner at home together and the topic of whether Marion will continue to work comes up.

Tom, clearly overcompensating, says she must stay at home and bear children before suddenly flying off the handle at Patrick for disagreeing with him. It is an odd scene of many, not just because Marion is sitting right there where she doesn’t say much at all, but because of how quickly it escalates. Styles only has a couple of modes of emoting, either repressed or angry, making the shift between them quite jarring in a way that feels rushed. There are a few subtle moments between characters that hint at a more measured perspective, such as a key chat Marion has with a caring friend, though they soon get lost in the shuffle.

While the film is more than Styles, it is his performance that represents the make or break point of the experience. The complexity of this character certainly made it a big role for him to take on so early in his acting career and this shows in the work that would have been far better with a more seasoned actor. This isn’t to single him out as he isn’t the first musician to make the leap from the stage to the screen. However, there is something about Styles that feels distinct in observing how he is still finding his footing. He plays Tom as abundantly nervous and uncertain about himself in every aspect we get to see of his character.

Image via Amazon Studios

Regrettably, much of this seems caught up in how Styles himself is uncertain and nervous as an actor playing the character. When seen alongside more multifaceted work from Dawon and Corrin, he comes off as being one-note. The older cast is similarly more confident and assured, making Styles stand out that much more. There could be an interesting reading of his performance as itself being a performance of heterosexual masculinity that is meant to ring false, though this is a bit too generous of an interpretation that requires overlooking quite a lot that just doesn’t resonate. If anything, his celebrity status continues to subsume whatever character he is meant to be. Shedding this is a tough task for even the most talented of performers and Styles just isn’t skilled enough yet as an actor to do so.

This is all a shame as the film is rather handsome to look at as Grandage takes his time placing us in each textured setting. It is unfortunate that the same can’t be said of the story itself which seems to purposely eschew complexity, especially in its rushed conclusion that plays like it just wants to get you out the door. Without giving away any details, there is a massive revelation that comes in the last ten minutes that smashes through the story like a freight train. This is something readers of the book will know is coming, but the way the film presents this revelation doesn’t adequately grapple with its emotional impact.

The way it plays out is akin to someone coming up to you, whispering something truly horrifying in your ear, before waving goodbye and leaving with no further explanation. It is far too neat, relying on a bit of hollow hand-waving and a forced false equivalency, when we are still reeling from the revelation that we just heard. It makes for an uneasy finale that tries to paper over any complexity or residual cruelty to half-heartedly cap off an already wobbly experience. For all the anticipation about this being a star turn for Styles, the lack of depth in his performance and of the film itself ensures it won’t leave nearly the impression it set out to.

Rating: C+

My Policeman is now in select theaters and available to stream on Prime Video.

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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