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By Ron Wells | December 20, 1999

Filmmaker Jane Campion (“Angel at My Table”, “The Piano”) has displayed genius, passion, insight, and self-indulgence in her work (but not always at the same time). Now, she reveals a sense of humor.
More spoiled brat than adult, Ruth (Kate Winslet) is a young Australian woman on vacation with a friend in India. When visiting a religious cult, she has what she believes is a spiritual epiphany and joins up. Her friend freaks out, goes home and tells Ruth’s upper middle-class white trash family. They then hire the best deprogrammer, or “cult-exiter” in America, P.J. Waters (Harvey Keitel, talk about the lunatics running the asylum). They lure Ruth home by faking her father’s illness. When his Australian assistant fails to materialize, Waters has to do the job all by himself. Jane Campion + Kate Winslet + Harvey Keitel = head games, kinky sex, and full-frontal nudity.
Most of the film is a battle of wills between Ruth and P.J. as each attempts to manipulate the other. If you’ve seen Harvey break down in “Bad Lieutenant” you know that when he’s going down, it won’t be alone. The pair get into each other’s heads. While Campion is brutal in stripping the characters of their illusions, she still displays an affection for them and Ruth’s circus sideshow of a family (while brightly colored, they are none too bright). Unfortunately, once the director finally reaches over the top, she doesn’t really know how to get back down. Still, it’s fun while it lasts.

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