The Glass House

Director: Daniel Sackheim
Screenplay: Wesley Strick
Stars: Leelee Sobieski (Ruby Baker), Stellan Skarsgard (Terry Glass), Diane Lane (Erin Glass), Trevor Morgan (Rhett Baker), Bruce Dern (Begleiter), Rita Wilson (Grace Baker), Michael O'Keefe (Dave Baker)
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Year of Release: 2001
Country: USA

The Glass House is a competent, but impersonal by-the-numbers thriller that never quite grabs hold of you emotionally. Veteran TV director Daniel Sackheim (NYPD Blue, The X-Files, among others) gives the movie a slick, polished sheen of professionalism, but the screenplay by Wesley Strick (Cape Fear) is stupefyingly obvious and relies far too frequently on convenient discoveries and overheard conversations. Even when Strick gets it right during the protracted climax by being inventive enough to have the villains defeat themselves, he still had to add a gratuitous final scene where the heroine runs over a bad guy. Perhaps it's all the labored allusions to Shakespeare's revenge drama Hamlet that made Strick incapable of not delivering the (unnecessary) final blow.

Leelee Sobieski stars as Ruby Baker, a 16-year-old who, along with her 11-year-old brother, Rhett (Trevor Morgan), is orphaned when their parents die in a car accident. Ruby and Rhett are taken in by their parents' old friends and ex-neighbors, Terry and Erin Glass (Stellan Skarsgard and Diane Lane). The Glasses seem nice at first, and Ruby and Rhett are temporarily wowed by their enormous glass and concrete cliff-side mansion in Malibu where they move (the silly play-on-words title referring to the house itself and the family that lives in it is testament to the movie's general vacuousness).

However, materialism aside, Ruby and Rhett quickly begin to feel that things are not quite right. If the Glasses are so rich and they can afford to live in such an extravagantly large house, why are Ruby and Rhett forced to share a bedroom? Why does Erin take such a harsh tone with Ruby when she "overhears" her on the phone making fun of her new high school? Why is Terry so grossly obvious in looking Ruby over when she climbs out of the swimming pool? What are Terry and Erin fighting about late at night? Were those morphine bottles in Erin's medicine cabinet?

This is just the beginning of the list of questions that all point to a single answer involving Terry and Erin's less-than-genuine reasons for taking Ruby and Rhett in. Strick manages to disguise the fine details of the scenario, but the obviousness of the general plot structure is impossible to miss. He also throws in a few red herrings to lead you astray, although they're not particularly well placed; they feel more like subplots that simply get dropped. One of his better devices is the use of Bruce Dern as the Bakers' trust attorney who may or may not be helping Ruby once she begins to suspect that the Glasses have bad intentions for her and her brother.

Part of the movie's problem is that Leelee Sobieski's teen heroine doesn't come across as a fully formed character. She's given a list of ambiguous character traits—she likes to draw, she's been in trouble with the school authorities in the past, she has a close-knit group of girlfriends with whom she breaks her curfew—but not anything to make her stand out as particularly interesting or worthy of sympathy. Of course, we feel for her because she is systematically exploited throughout the movie by her cruel new guardians, but that's too easy. The Glass House needs more emotional investment and psychological complexity to work, and in these departments it is found sorely lacking.

The one good note the movie strikes is in Terry and Erin Glass. Like so many of the villains in Alfred Hitchcock's best films (Rear Window, Psycho), they are monsters, but pathetic monsters. Caught in a web of desperation they have spun themselves, Terry and Erin become villains because they can see no other way out of their predicament (their greatest flaw is their narrow tunnel-vision—they're not even very good at being bad and the only reason they get as far as they do is because their victims are children). That they have a reason for their cruel deeds is not enough to get them off the hook, but it is enough to make them interesting and sometimes a bit sad. If only that kind of complexity had infused the rest of the movie.

Copyright © 2001 James Kendrick

Overall Rating: (2)

James Kendrick

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