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By Phil Hall | December 8, 2003

“Girl with a Pearl Earring” is a handsome but dull film which tries to imagine the story behind the Johannes Vermeer painting of the same name. In this production, the girl in question is a teenage servant named Griet who comes to work for the Vermeer family and soon catches the eye and fancy of the famed painter. In short time, Vermeer is teaching the girl all about painting and is using her as a model.
The strength of this film lies in its glorious production design. Cinematographer Eduardo Serra, art director Ben van Os, costume designer Dien Van Straalen and set decorator Cecile Heideman do an extraordinary job in recreating the atmosphere of 17th century Holland. Clearly this team has strived to duplicate the look of the Vermeer paintings, which is strange given that the film’s presentations of the paintings look more like paint-by-number bumblings than perfect reproductions of the master’s brushwork.
Sadly, “Girl with a Pearl Earring” fails to engage the audience when it comes to the main casting. Colin Firth, stuck under an ill-fitting wig, is barely credible as the brooding and obsessed Vermeer; the man seems like a hopeless prig and his presence on-screen inspires yawns. This may explain why Scarlett Johansson’s Griet wanders through the film like a sleepwalker. Barely blinking or daring to show an emotion, it is difficult to tell with her stone faced demeanor and albino-pale make-up whether she is practicing stoicism or rigor mortis. When these two are together, the film is literally as exciting as watching paint dry. Tom Wilkinson tries to liven things up as Vermeer’s patron, but his hammy antics are too few and far between to breathe life here.
“Girl with a Pearl Earring” is the perfect prestige film for the people who vote in the technical categories for the Academy Awards. For the general public, time and money is better spent among the still lifes at any art museum than with this monotonous flick.
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