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  • Benjamin May

The Final Curtain (2002) Review

J.J. Curtis is a fading star in the game show world. After seeing a young novelist named Jonathan Stitch win a prestigious award, Curtis hires the scribe to pen his biography. He believes it will bring him more attention, which he needs if he is to beat rival game show host and mortal enemy Dave Turner in the ratings war. As Stitch spends time with Curtis, he realises the man isn’t the charming fellow he seems on television, but a ruthless manipulator that will do anything and everything to get what he wants. Will the aging host’s machinations spell disaster for Stitch, or will he be beaten at his own game?


Directed by Patrick Harkins and written by John Hodge, ‘The Final Curtain’ is an uneven black-comedy that tells a somewhat familiar story- but tells it well. Touching upon themes such as the loss of fame and the search for legacy, the contrast between reality and appearance, as well as the relationship between art and life, the film explores some interesting ideas. Hodge’s dialogue is witty and acerbic and- though a little one dimensional- most of his characters are believable. J.J. is a particularly interesting subject, a man fuelled by his own sense of self-importance, and his struggle to secure his place in a rapidly changing industry is engaging.

However, the film is not without its flaws. The narrative is uneven and some of Hodge’s characters are underdeveloped and exaggerated. Turner is a one-dimensional villain, who is both whiny and irritating - character traits only amplified by Aidan Gillen’s over-the-top performance. Stitch is also something of a wet-blanket, who does not make for a very compelling central character. He lacks agency and personality, and his relationship with his girlfriend is poorly explored. Moreover, the twists and turns that populate the film’s latter half are largely predictable and unsatisfying.


Oliver Curtis’s cinematography isn’t much to write home about either, being competent but unremarkable. While it tells the story and sets the mood, it lacks visual flair or style. Curtis uses conventional shots and angles, naturalistic lighting and muted colours, with some contrast and highlights to heighten emotions in certain scenes; though no image he captures is particularly memorable. Overall, his cinematography is adequate and functional, but not distinctive.

On the other hand, Kave Quinn’s production design is commendable. She faithfully captures the look and feel of two very different game shows, one modern and the other traditional. Mark Thomas’s score is atmospheric and grand, adding additional drama and tension to proceedings. Susannah Buxton’s costume design is also worth mentioning, as it adds to the characters personalities and identities, as well as to the contrast between the two game shows.


‘The Final Curtain’ finds Peter O’Toole on top form as J.J. Curtis, delivering a performance that is a masterclass in menace. Charming, bitter and cynical, he plays the man as a sleazy arch manipulator in the style of J.J. Hunsecker. He dominates the film, and is clearly having a ball with the material. Alongside him, Adrien Lester does fine work as Stitch, even if the role isn’t exactly demanding. He manages to convey the curiosity and conflict of the writer, who is torn between his admiration and disgust for Curtis, and has good chemistry with O’Toole. Aidan Gillen hams it up as Turner, seeming hell bent on chewing as much scenery as he can; though has some strong scenes when he chooses to underplay it.

‘The Final Curtain’ is an entertaining but flawed comic-drama exploring themes of television and fame, featuring sharp dialogue and a brilliant performance from Peter O’Toole. The film suffers from an uneven narrative and a predictable last act, but also boasts some compelling elements, such as the stirring score and the high-quality production design. Above all else though, it is worth watching for O’Toole’s portrayal of J.J. Curtis, a fascinatingly complex character who will keep you hooked until the curtain falls.



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