When your father is someone as prolific as filmmaker Ridley Scott, your directorial debut is bound to come up just a little bit short. But in Jordan Scott’s case, a little bit short is still very, very good.
The younger Scott forges her way into feature film territory with “Cracks,” a period drama/thriller about a tight-knit group of girls at an English boarding school.
At St. Mathilda’s, the diving team reigns supreme, and Di (Juno Temple), the team captain, is the queen bee and favorite of their glamorous, free-spirited teacher and diving coach, Miss G (Eva Green). But when Fiamma (Maria Valverde), an aristocratic Spanish student, arrives, Miss G’s attention quickly shifts, and Di’s jealousy flairs.
Miss G’s fervent interest in the cool, mature Fiamma blooms into full-blown obsession, and her behavior and composure take a downward slide into questionable. When she gets involved in a midnight feast that brings the girls together in a moment of tentative friendship, it turns into a night that will change all of their lives.
“Cracks,” adapted from the novel of the same name by Sheila Kohler, contains all the schoolgirl drama, repressed sexual tension and petty rivalries one would expect in an old-fashioned boarding school setting.
Di and Fiamma battle each other with steely gazes and verbal standoffs, one furious at losing her perch in the hierarchy and the other just wanting to be left alone. A skinny-dipping scene flirts gently with eroticism, all giggling innocence above the water and thrashing nakedness underneath. A forbidden lesbian kiss makes an appearance later, leaving the majority of the action off-screen.
More fascinating is Scott’s examination of the dangers of a life lived entirely within walls, a life devoid of outside stimulus. Miss G makes up an existence for herself, one filled with travel and grand adventures. Although viewers see her deception through a series of well-chosen details — she’s afraid of open water and can barely handle an interaction with a store clerk — her tales keep her schoolgirl audience rapt, and since they never leave the school, her make-believe is never challenged. Until Fiamma and her real-life worldliness comes to town, that is.
From the opening shot, you can tell Scott knows what she’s doing and how to do it. The fact that her father, director of films like “Alien,” “Thelma and Louise” and “Gladiator,” and uncle Tony Scott, director of “Man on Fire” and television series “Numb3rs,” both acted as executive producers for “Cracks” may have helped.
Everything is in shades of gray — the walls of the school, the water of the lake, the hills themselves. And then, a physical manifestation of the exotic, Fiamma arrives, her bright orange coat making her stand out against the landscape as much as her personality will against the other girls. Scott’s team also gets kudos for the casting — the crew of young, unpolished girls are actually played, for once, by young, unpolished girls. It’s a small detail, but one that lends credibility to the school and its inhabitants.
The actresses all shine here. Green is sexy, charismatic and unnerving by turns, and her intense, brooding stares and crumbling outer poise perfectly mirror her inner turmoil. Temple plays Di with fierce earnestness, protective of the rules and her position because its the only thing she has, and Valverde manages to show both Fiamma’s queenly confidence and her vulnerability as an outsider.
“Cracks” veers into melodrama toward the end, but the film as a whole is a powerful work in desire, obsession and the sometimes thin line between real life and fantasy. If this is any indication of future potential, Scott’s father should be proud.