There are many reasons to see GREENFINGERS. Its a pleasant little bit of British escapism, based on a true story, that charms with its odd premise, keen sense of justice, and sharp humor as it delivers a sweet little love story. But right at the top of the list of reasons has to be its star, Clive Owen, a toothsome morsel of manflesh who first invaded America with CROUPIER. He follows that film up with another great performance that shows his versatility as an actor while showcasing his brooding brand of charismatic sex appeal. Just another pretty face, hes not.
He plays Colin Briggs, a would-be hard-boiled convict transferred against his wishes from a maximum to a minimum-security prison. Its the sort of place that serves its inmates tea in the afternoon. It seems that while hes given up on himself, the world isnt ready to. Unwilling to rejoin even prison society, he keeps himself and his emotions to himself despite the best efforts of roommate Fergus, played by the eccentrically endearing David Kelley. The old coot finally gets through with an unorthodox Christmas present, a few packets of violet seeds. Colin plants them without much hope of seeing anything come of it, but come spring, there they are, blooming profusely. The effect on Colin is profound but understated. The close up on Owen shows a perfect deadpan but with eyes that are bemused and surprised at the emotions that the flowers engender. And thats the charm of this film. The moment, like so many others, is funny, but its also strangely moving. The situations may be absurd, but the feelings are never less than genuine. Its a peculiar mix that works like chocolate and peanut butter. Good individually, but together, dynamite.
Garden fever spreads through the prison becoming a passion rivaling bodybuilding. Soon, a jaded celebrity gardener, in the person of Helen Mirren sporting extravagantly flowered hats, takes a shine to the lads and theyre set to compete at the Hampton Court Flower Show, the biggest deal in English horticulture. It also sets the stage for the romance between Colin and Mirrens shy and aptly named daughter, Primrose, played by Natasha Little.Their scenes together, though tentative and circumspect, are as sexy as it gets when it comes to passion, though neither takes off much more than a stitch of clothing.
The script, by director Joel Hershman, begins in the middle, swings around the beginning and then trots along to a sly little ending that is in keeping with the slightly tongue-in-cheek tone of the flick.The device cleverly allows the context of the same scenes to be changed radically with the second viewing. A stupid move becomes an act of selflessness executed with a wildly romantic panache.
GREENFINGERS has a misstep or two. I could have done without a painfully obvious pun about germination and sex, but this parable about blooms and redemptions of all kinds is irresistible.