The Cannes Film Festival was temporarily hijacked Friday by the market premiere for “Unlawful Killing.”
Keith Allen’s “inquest into the inquest” of Princess Diana’s death was received by a humid crush of buyers and press drawn by the heat of controversy: In addition to its unabashed embrace of conspiracy theories surrounding the incident, there has been international outrage at the film’s would-be inclusion of a “gruesome” and “graphic” photo of a dying Diana.
“This was three years in the making,” Allen told the audience inside the Olympia 2 theater. “I’m proving that I’m not a raving Republican or Trotskyite.” And, he added, “The photo is nowhere near as contentious as it’s presented to be.”
All right — now that we know what it isn’t, what is “Unlawful Killing”?
This movie is a hot TMZ-flavored mess. Like what you see on TMZ, much of what’s presented here could very well be true — but the presentation itself works to undermine the message.
That said, Allen’s right: If you hadn’t been told about the Diana photo in advance, you might not have noticed it was there at all. While the film presents a healthy assortment of eye-rolling moments, there’s absolutely nothing to the photo’s would-be exploitation controversy. The black-and-white image shows little beyond the general impression of the car’s twisted metal; in the very back is Diana’s face, her eyes closed. And the film does nothing to highlight, much less exploit, the image.
“Unlawful Killing” only sounds like it ripped off the title of a little-known Ice-T movie from the 1990s. It’s actually the formal verdict of the inquest’s jury, which determined that the deaths of Diana, Dodi Al-Fayed and driver Henri Paul were the equivalent of manslaughter.
The film’s director, Keith Allen, is a veteran UK actor who’s a familiar and colorful favorite of chat hosts. Known for his stints in rehab and as the father of singer Lily Allen, he’s also fond of shots that show him nodding sagely at his interview subjects.
He could have done with a better class of interview. While Piers Morgan comports himself quite well (“The inquest raised more questions than it answered,” he says. “I don’t know the answers.”), others featured include Howard Stern interviewing Mohamed Al-Fayed; a wheelchair-bound and cowboy-hatted ailing Tony Curtis vouching for Dodi’s intelligence (“He was smart, Dodi!”) and his love of Diana; and Kitty Kelley being Kitty Kelley.
Mohamed Al-Fayed burned the royal crests. After Prince Philip ordered that the royal crests be removed from the front of Harrod’s, Mohamed burned them in a ceremony on his estate in Surrey, in front of the mausoleum where Dodi is buried.
The Dave Stewart music is a mistake.
Stewart’s name is impressive (Dave-Stewart-of Euryhthmics writes in to say that it wasn’t that Dave Stewart. I apologize for the error, but I’m frankly relieved.), but the film’s wannabe pulse-pounding soundtrack sounds like it belongs on the ripoff of a “CSI:” ripoff.
So are the reenactments. Allen reconstructs the inquest using notes taken by his “mole,” Richard Wiseman, who posed as a member of the covering press. While the transcripts themselves are believable, the ham-fisted reenactments are tacky and lit for maximum, mustache-twirling impact.
The film is driven not by one conspiracy theory, but several. Among them are Diana knew she was going to be killed, the murder was timed to undercut her work to eradicate land mines; the media ignores the truth in order to curry the Queen’s favor and the Royal Family’s determination to off her was driven by anti-Muslim racism.
Allen raises some good points, though none are new. There’s Diana’s prediction that “my husband is planning an accident on my car,” written in her own hand; there’s the mysterious White Fiat Uno, which witnesses saw at the crash site and may have belonged to paparazzi James Andanson. He was later found in a burned-out shell of a car and ruled a suicide.