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Film Review: 'Fifty Shades of Grey' - A Seductive Adaptation Packed with Depth and Nuance

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In the phenomenon 'Fifty Shades of Grey,' Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson step into the iconic roles of billionaire entrepreneur Christian Grey and curious college student Anastasia Steele. Photo Credit: Chuck Zlotnick. Copyright: © 2015 Universal Studios and Focus Features. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

The highly anticipated cinematic release for the film adaptation of New York Times Best Seller Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James could not come at a better time than this past Valentine’s Day weekend. Reveling in the premise alone; the fulfillment of every lovesick fantasy come true. Who wouldn’t want an insanely gorgeous person with millions upon millions of dollars to lavish you in a quick succession of expensive gifts, private aircrafts and a sexual revelation to boot? 

The book’s main characters, handsome billionaire Christian Grey, played by Jamie Dornan (aka “the golden torso,” a former underwear model turned TV and screen actor) and Anastasia “Ana” Steele, a recent literature undergraduate turned submissive played by model/actress Dakota Johnson (daughter of Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith) are brought to life with more depth and nuance than James could imagine.

Many have argued the merits and mistakes of the book that sold 100 million copies worldwide, translated into 52 different languages. The different communities it touches could agree, the book has brought BDSM themes of bondage, submission and safe words to a wider audience, even if it represents those themes and the characters involved inaccurately.

Christian Grey’s behavior, for example, in the book resembles that of an over-possessive, emotionally controlling abuser, rather then a thoughtful dominant. Christian’s past is kept a complete mystery, with hints of child abuse, statutory rape and emotional trauma, without him being able to explain anything other than, “This is the way I am!”

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Dakota Johnson stars as curious college student Anastasia Steele in the phenomenon 'Fifty Shades of Grey.' Photo Credit: Universal Pictures and Focus Features. Copyright: © 2015 Universal Studios and Focus Features. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

On the other hand, naïve virgin Ana Steele is struggling to keep her emotional balance in the face of such thick seduction. The majority of the book’s dialogue is centered on Ana’s inner-thoughts and conflict in negotiating the terms of the dominate/submissive contract, constructed in regular monologues with her “inner-goddess,” as she’s subjected to orgasm after mind-blowing orgasm, ripe with all the reckless abandon and hurt feelings of first love.

In the book, the sex scenes take up 30-40 percent of the novel and only add up to approximately 20 minutes of the 125-minute film. Without revealing too much, the scenes are well choreographed and pack a punch. The explicitness adds an authentic note to their primal indulgences. A well-orchestrated score to support the audience’s understanding of what type of dynamic they are bearing witness to accompanies each of these scenes. The third star in this film is, without a doubt, the soundtrack compilation, from classic Bruce Springsteen covers to the sultry musical stylings of artists like Beyoncé and The Weeknd.

Fifty Shades is headed up by an all-female production staff with screenwriter Kelly Marcel and James herself being largely involved, along with director Sam Taylor-Johnson, whose visual direction is sharp and poignant, composing scenes that reveal depth in characters through body language, eye contact and tone.

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In the phenomenon 'Fifty Shades of Grey,' Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson step into the iconic roles of billionaire entrepreneur Christian Grey and curious college student Anastasia Steele. Photo Credit: Chuck Zlotnick. Copyright: © 2015 Universal Studios and Focus Features. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

There is more conveyed through onscreen visual language than the dialogue alone poses. This generates a clearer narrative arc for Ana, as she transitions from an awkward interviewer in the opening scenes to a clear-cut decisive flirting negotiator, exerting all types of power and control, playing with her Christian Grey. She has it all: humor, poise, drama and heart.

 

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Jamie Dornan stars as billionaire entrepreneur Christian Grey in the phenomenon 'Fifty Shades of Grey.' Photo Credit: Chuck Zlotnick. Copyright: © 2015 Universal Studios and Focus Features. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Dornan’s eyes are the windows into Christian’s soul throughout the course of the film. He does an excellent job of using his gaze to direct the kind of pent up emotion and presence needed for a seemingly-complicated character that has little written material in words to work with. He expels the strategically designed tension when caressing Ana with a riding crop, only to smack her hand intentionally asking, “Does that hurt?” When she replies “No,” Christian reveals the core truth of the book and film combined: The number one greatest sex organ we possess is our imagination.

Fifty Shades of Grey is now playing in theatres.