traveling with a friend though India, Ruth Barron (Kate Winslet) is seduced by a mystical
cult led by an enchanting Indian guru. She decides never to return to her home in
Australia—but her family has other plans. Determined to pull her out of the cult using
any means necessary, Ruth’s mother travels to India, tells Ruth a fictional story about
her father’s failing heath, and eventually lures her back home.
is back in Australia, her family hires tough American cult expert PJ Waters (Harvey
Keitel) to deprogram her. They’re told that he’s the best there is—and he claims that he
can have her back to normal in just three days. So he brings Ruth out to an isolated old
shack in the middle of nowhere and slowly begins his task.
has no intention of being deprogrammed, and she and PJ become locked in a battle of wits.
Before long, it’s hard to tell who’s manipulating whom.
Smoke! could have been a spectacular film. In fact, as I watched the beginning, I
expected it to be a spectacular film. The scenes in India are stunning—and The Piano director Jane Campion does an excellent job of portraying the noise and confusion of the city streets
and the enchantment of the cult. And the battle of wits between Ruth and PJ promises to
But then things suddenly change.
Instead of showing PJ in action—and showing the mental struggle between
PJ and Ruth—Campion and co-writer/sister Anna Campion apparently gave up on their research and decided to throw in
some shock value to distract viewers’ attention away from the story. They threw in a few
sex scenes and plenty of nudity and called it a movie. And the result wasn’t pretty. In
fact, the image of Harvey Keitel’s naked rear end sprawled on top of poor Kate Winslet
may very well haunt me for the rest of my life. I could never wish that on anyone
else—which is partially why I can’t recommend this movie.
As the story
progresses, it only goes farther downhill. Ruth changes from the sweet yet strong-willed
woman she once was into a manipulative temptress. And PJ changes from a strong,
determined man into a big pile of mush. Perhaps the filmmakers wanted to show that a
woman’s sexuality is stronger than a man’s intellect. But why? Why does a woman have to
use her body as her greatest weapon in the battle of the sexes? Can’t she use her mind
Overall, the story is full of distractions and inconsistencies,
turning a potentially moving and thought-provoking film into an unbalanced disappointment
on film. Skip this one if you know what’s good for you.