Retro Film Review: Incognito (1997)

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When people invented painting, they used it as a conduit to spiritual world or a simple way to record important events. These days paintings serve other purposes - satisfying the vanity of wealthy snobs as well as greed of art gallery owners and various middlemen. In other words, art is lucrative business, but not everyone involved in it enjoys its benefits, including the protagonist of Incognito, 1997 thriller directed by John Badham. New York painter Harry Donovan (played by Jason Patric) always tried to satisfy the ambitions of his father Milton (played by Rod Steiger) and become famous artist. Unfortunately, this dream remained only a dream and Donovan had to make ends meet by forging the works of other famous artists. One day he is approached by three unscrupulous art dealers, led by sinister-looking Alastair Davies (played by Thomas Lockyer) and offered an enormous sum of money for forging the work of Rembrandt. Donovan reluctantly agrees and begins hard work, that would also include months of research across European museums and galleries. When he finally delivers his masterpiece of forgery, it turns out that his employers aren't willing to pay. In ensuing scuffle one of the dealers get killed, and Donovan is forced to run for his life, carrying a picture everyone thinks is the genuine work of Rembrandt.

John Badham made plenty of films, some of them being great, but he was nevertheless an odd choice for the film based around art. Perhaps the idea was to make this film in style of 1960s light-hearted heist thrillers, but Jordan Katz's script approaches its subject with utter seriousness. Jason Patric takes his role very seriously, but he can't hide blandness, especially in the scenes with Irène Jacob who plays Dutch art historian and obligatory love interest. Two of them don't have any chemistry, while the rest of the cast sometimes goes over the top. However, the Incognito visuals are appealing, partly because of various European locations, partly because of the plot that allows film makers that go around modern Hollywood's reluctance to show female nudity. The most valuable thing about Incognito is the insight into world of art history and the fascinating process of art forgery, but ridiculous plot, laughably unbelievable characters and Badham not being up to the task indicate that the better way for audience to learn about those subject would be in the form of documentary.

RATING: 4/10 (+)

(Note: The text in its original form was posted in Usenet newsgroup on March 15th 2004)

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