The real star of The Rook is production designer Sebastian Schroder, who, with an obviously minuscule budget, has done some of the most inventive art direction since Brazil. Like that film, which crossed an Orwellian future with prewar nostalgia, The Rook suggests an eerie mix of eras, with steam-powered computers, crank-operated telephones, gloomy fluorescent lights, and horse-drawn carriages. Viewers should feel as disoriented as the film's protagonist, trying to solve a murder mystery that takes him into the revolutionary underground of an unnamed country.
But as they say on Broadway, no one ever left a musical humming the set design, and Schroder's work can't hide the amateurish storytelling of Palatnik and screenwriter Richard Purvis or their threadbare philosophical conceits. Sleuth John Abbott (a dazed Martin Donovan) finds his Manichaean religious faith an archaic liability in a place where everyone may be a double agent, and his insistence on discovering a single, unambiguous truth leads to his destruction. The movie is a muddle that plays like a mistranslated Raul Ruiz film.
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