February 10, 2002 -- "The Glass House" is a by-the-numbers suspense film about kids in danger. It has some Shakespeare in it, and that adds a bit of class. That, and some good acting, keep the film from being a stinker, but it never rises above mediocrity.
Leelee Sobieski of "Joy Ride" stars as high school girl Ruby Baker. Instead of being a prince of Denmark, she's a princess from the Valley, living a life of privilege until the sudden death of her parents in a car accident. She and her younger brother, Rhett (played by Trevor Morgan) go to live with their guardians, Erin and Terry Glass (Diane Lane of "The Perfect Storm" and Stellan Skarsgård of "Ronin"). Things seem O.K. at first, but Ruby gradually begins to learn that there's something rotten in the State of California, and that the Glass's are not the happy, well-adjusted loving couple they first appeared to be. This whole arrangement makes me wonder, is there such a thing as an illegal guardian?
The Glass home in Malibu is one of those elaborate architectural monstrosities, all concrete and glass, without an ounce of warmth. The coldness of the place is exaggerated by the use of cool colors in the film. The tension in the story gets cranked up as Erin and Terry become more and more threatening and their true nature and plans are revealed. Sobieski, Lane and Skarsgård turn in good acting performances. Bruce Dern also is also good as a morally ambivalent estate attorney.
One of the problems with the story is that it telegraphs its punches. After watching the film a few minutes, you know everything that is going to happen in advance. The story uses too many genre clichés. One thing that does make it a bit interesting is the introduction of Hamlet into the story. The Shakespearean play is brought into the story through a school homework assignment. There are certain parallels between the plot of Hamlet and "The Glass House." It is a clever plot device and it does make the story resonate a little. Director Daniel Sackheim has done mostly television work before and you can see he's trying to get used to a slightly different medium in film. According to Sackheim's comments on the DVD I watched, it sounds like the story was fiddled with by executives and Sackheim and writer Wesley Strick ("Return to Paradise") didn't really get to do the film the way they wanted to.
According to the director's audio commentary track on the DVD, the screenplay originally began with Erin and Terry Glass having dinner with the Bakers (Ruby and Rhett's parents). Some suit didn't like that, so the film starts with the Bakers having breakfast with the kids. Why breakfast and not dinner? Makes no sense to me. Whatever, I'll bet the original concept was probably better than the way it turned out. Maybe next time. Based on this film, it looks to me like Sackheim deserves another chance. This film rates a C.
The DVD has the usual features, like production notes, the theatrical trailer, director's commentary, deleted scenes, filmmaker interviews and other stuff. It comes in both Full-screen and widescreen anamorphic formats. One of the deleted scenes depicts the graveside services for Ruby's parents. It was a scene that probably should have been in the film. Without that scene, the film seems like something is missing in that particular spot. The deleted scene shows the connection between child and parent, and the regret felt by Ruby for having taken her parents for granted.
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