|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 01 June 2004|
‘Incognito’ has an unconventional premise and a great visual style. Unfortunately, it takes so long to get its plot engine revving and has such a charmless protagonist that it’s hard to remain engaged by the proceedings.
Jason Patric stars as Harry Donovan, an embittered expert art forger who, when we meet him, is in the process of being arrested for murder. We then flash back to the start of Harry’s troubles four months earlier, when he agrees to "forge" an undiscovered Rembrandt.
In other words, Harry will do an original work in the style of Rembrandt, utilizing complicated and arcane techniques to make it appear centuries old, and his employers will then "find" the painting in a suitable location. At first, the plan goes brilliantly, but then greed (the employers’) and ego (Harry’s) get in the way and disaster looms.
What director John Badham does sumptuously well is create a subtle painterly look that carries from scene to scene. When he shows us the surface of a lake glimmering in the background, it does not merely reflect sunlight but has soft blues and yellows melting into one another; when a couple flee through a magically green wood, the woman’s likewise jewel-green coat blends with the colors and shapes of the leaves.
Further, Jordan Katz’s screenplay is full of authoritative, fascinating facts about how art is variously made, copied, authenticated and exposed as fake. ‘Incognito’ could serve as a handy tool for teaching courses in the detection of art forgery. However, in an attempt to portray Harry as deep, he has been made so cranky and unpersonable that he’s frankly a chore to be around. As none of the supporting characters have much dimension either--save Harry’s disappointed dad (well-played by Rod Steiger)--we wind up more interested in the aging of paint than the fate of the people, never a good sign. Even a bout of semi-public sex in Chapter 7 doesn’t quicken the pace much, though a brief bout of fierce violence in Chapter 16 is well-staged and momentarily startling.
For a movie that virtually disappeared upon theatrical release, the DVD of ‘Incognito’ has a wealth of supplemental materials. Indeed, the extras – visits to the studio where camera-friendly artist James Gemmill paints "Harry’s" pictures, discussions of art techniques and tales of high-stakes art swindling – are arguably a lot more engrossing than the fictional tale they support.