DIRECTOR: Sam Taylor-Johnsonfifty_shades_of_grey

CAST: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Eloise Mumford, Luke Grimes, Rita Ora, Victor Rasuk, Max Martini, Dylan Neal, Callum Keith Rennie, Jennifer Ehle, Marcia Gay Harden, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Andrew Airlie, Anthony Konechny, Emily Fonda, Rachel Skarsten

RUNNING TIME: 125 mins


BASICALLY…: Journalist Anastasia Steele (Johnson) becomes involved with the wealthy Christian Grey (Dornan), and soon discovers that his desires are more, erm, dominant…


Since the inevitable announcement that EL James’ infamous worldwide bestseller Fifty Shades of Grey was going to be adapted into a major film release, the naysayers went into more hysterics than actual fans of the book. The signs were all there for it to fail on a spectacular level; the dropping out of original star Charlie Hunnam as billionaire playboy Christian Grey didn’t help matters, nor did later revelations that director Sam Taylor-Johnson – marking only her second feature film after 2009’s Nowhere Boy – frequently quarrelled with James over the adaptation, and that stars Dakota Johnson and Hunnam’s replacement Jamie Dornan did not get along at all. All that, and being based on a source material continuously mocked by the masses for its poor narrative and perverse descent into “mommy porn” territory paved the way for a critical disappointment on an epic scale.

“Get to the point,” you’re obviously pleading in your head; is it as bad as we’d think? The answer, to everyone’s surprise, is no – but it’s not nearly as good as we’re implying, either.

It is the effort made by everyone involved, from Taylor Johnson to writer Kelly Marcel to cinematographer Seamus McGarney to even stars Johnson and Dornan, to polish this gigantic turd of a novel into something more comprehensible for the screen which should be admired the most. Nobody can honestly work with such horrendous writing and retain any sort of dignity afterwards – “My inner goddess is jumping up and down, clapping her hands like a five year old” is an actual description from James’ book – so props to these creative talents for at least attempting to give it more of an identity in the filmic language. Gone is the incessant inner monologue from protagonist Anastasia Steele (Johnson) and replacing it is a visual style that emits a sense of eroticism and – yes – beauty; this is thanks to the combined effort of Marcel and McGarney who must have had the toughest jobs within the crew, getting rid the very language that the book attracted so much disdain for and presenting it competently within a visual medium, with Taylor-Johnson holding everything together as best she can.

Even the acting, though nothing special, is not to be discarded. Though Dornan doesn’t quite have the charisma that many were hoping that the big-screen incarnation of Christian Grey would have, he’s still just about able to hold it all together even when he’s saying atrocious dialogue like “I’m fifty shades of f**ed-up” with a straight face. Leaving more of an impact – and ironically dominating – is Johnson who, once you get past her mostly-monotone delivery, does manage to give her Ana more of a personality than required and lightens the mood constantly with some carefully placed humour throughout.

However, you can sculpt Michelangelo’s David out of faecal matter all you want but at the end of the day it’s still crap. The story is still as mind-numbingly silly as James originally wrote it – though if you think it was silly then, wait till you read the sequels if you haven’t already – and paced just as awkwardly, with the two-hour running time going by very slowly. Pretty much nothing happens that furthers character or even story; it really is a case of boy meets girl, they fall in love, they engage in heavy sexual activity, and that’s pretty much it – even the way it ends, aside from leaving things open for its all-but-confirmed sequels, is very sudden and off-putting, without a real resolution or even a wrap-up in certain arcs. Johnson and Dornan’s alleged off-screen dislike for one another does unfortunately show in their numerous scenes together, with barely any chemistry registering between them making their scenes together a bit more off-putting with Dornan’s Grey in particular coming across as an aggressive borderline stalker and a clingy, obsessive sexual predator.

Speaking of which, let’s discuss the reason why cinemas are putting up numerous reminders of age certification: there are indeed multiple instances of sex, trimmed down heavily from the novel, and at first they’re done fine. The first in this series, which aims to rid Ana of her overbearing virginity, is tastefully shot and sensual, easily the most erotic the film becomes in its entirety. The problem, however, is that we get more scenes like it over and over again, and by the time we finally get round to the BDSM portion it’s tiresome to say the least. Unless your own specific desires stretch to this particular area, you won’t get much pleasure from watching two people engage in bondage gear, complete with rope and flogging equipment – funnily enough, it’s something that literally sounds better on paper.

To the film’s credit, it’s an impossible task to turn something like Fifty Shades of Grey into a truly good movie, with its poor grasp on storytelling being the ultimate factor that cannot be changed no matter what. However, you can leave the auditorium with the positive feeling that they at least tried to give it some clarity – even though it didn’t necessarily succeed, it’s more effort than EL James’ trashy work deserves.


Though Fifty Shades of Grey retains some of the elements that got it ridiculed in the first place, from its poor storytelling abilities to its perverse descent into BDSM territory, the cast and crew of this adaptation – including Dakota Johnson’s strong turn as Anastasia Steele – deserves credit for at least trying to glam things up for the big screen. It’s not bad, but not good either; thanks to their combined effort, it’s somewhere in the middle – which is certainly more than we thought we’d initially say about it…