Wednesday, June 12, 2024

The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar


Based on the short story by Roald Dahl, The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar is about a man who learns about a guru who sees things without using his eyes hoping to master this technique to cheat at gambling. Written and directed for the screen by Wes Anderson, the 37-minute short film is the first of a four-part short film series that adapts the works of Dahl as it is told in the offbeat yet meticulous style that Anderson is known for. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Kingsley, Dev Patel, and Richard Ayoade. The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar is an imaginative and wonderous film from Wes Anderson.

The film is the simple story of a rich man who discovers a book about a doctor’s report on a guru who can see things without his eyes where the man hopes to master this skill to cheat at gambling. It is a film told in a multilayered style as it is told through different characters with Roald Dahl (Ralph Fiennes) doing the narration as well as how he authored this story with claims that it is based on a real man. Notably as the titular character (Benedict Cumberbatch) was at an event bored where he walked to the library where he discovered this book written by Dr. Chatterjee (Dev Patel) who recounts his meeting with a circus performer in Imdad Khan (Ben Kingsley) who asked to be blindfolded for an upcoming performance. Dr. Chatterjee and his colleague Dr. Marshall (Richard Ayoade) would ask Khan these questions about where he learned this trade where Khan would tell the story of how he met this guru (Richard Ayoade) as it plays into Henry Sugar’s obsession to learn this skill, yet it would succeed in learning it, but its aftermath would prove to be unfulfilling.

Wes Anderson’s direction plays in a style that includes a lot of static shots and so much mindfulness in the setting where it does feel like the fourth wall is broken. Shot on location at the Maidstone Studios in Kent, England, Anderson’s usage of un-broken long shots, unique camera angles, and sets being moved from set to another adds to this unconventional presentation where characters narrate this story and the layers upon which it plays into Sugar’s newfound obsession. While the film is shot in a 1:33:1 full-frame aspect ratio on 16mm film to maintain an intimate style while still using some wide shots. Anderson’s usage of medium shots and close-ups do add to the sense of whimsy as well as intrigue into whether these stories were true as the characters would talk to the camera to play into this ambiguity with actors also playing multiple roles. It would all play into this journey of a rich yet lonely man who wants more money and wealth, yet it is through this skill to see things without his eyes that would reveal so much more than what wealth can offer to him. Overall, Anderson crafts a delightful and rapturous film about a rich man’s discovery of a secret skill that can make him wealthier.

Cinematographer Robert Yeomen does incredible work with the film’s cinematography with the usage of vibrant colors and heightened lighting for some of the daytime exteriors as well as stylish lights and low-key lights for some scenes at night. Editors Barney Pilling and Andrew Weisblum do excellent work with the editing as it has a few jump-cuts while a lot of it is straightforward in its cutting in allowing shots to linger for a few minutes. Production designer Adam Stockhausen, with supervising art director Kevin Timon Hill plus set decorators Cathy Featherstone and Anna Pinnock, does brilliant work with the look of the sets in the interiors of Sugar’s home, the hospital in India, and some of the backdrops created for Khan’s story. Costume designer Kasia Walicka Maimone does fantastic work with the costumes in the posh clothing that Sugar wears as well as the different clothing that Dahl and other characters wear.

Hair/makeup designer Frances Hannon does amazing work with the hair/makeup design in the different looks that the characters would have included Sugar late in the film. Special effects supervisor Chris Reynolds, along with visual effects supervisors Jep Hill, David Lebensfeld, Tim Ledbury, and Grant Miller, does terrific work with the special effects in some of the backdrops with some little mechanical animation in the background and rear projection in a few bits. Sound editors Wayne Lemmer and Christopher Scarabosio do superb work with the sound as it plays into some of the natural sound effects as well as some sound effects created to play into the environment the characters are in. Music supervisor Randall Poster creates a wonderful soundtrack that consists of a classical music piece that is played sparingly in parts of the film.

The film’s ensemble cast features a few small appearances from Jarvis Cocker in various roles as friends of Sugar as well as a casino receptionist and David Gant as a casino croupier. Richard Ayoade is excellent in a dual role as Dr. Marshall who assists Dr. Chatterjee in his study of Khan as well as the Great Yogi who would teach Khan this trick to see things without his eyes. Dev Patel is amazing in a dual role as Dr. Chatterjee who is fascinated by Khan’s story where he would author the book that Sugar would read and as Sugar’s family accountant John Winston who would oversee Sugar’s business later in the film. Ben Kingsley is brilliant in a dual role as the circus performer Imdad Khan who would gain fame through a trick in seeing things without his eyes where he presents himself in a calm manner and in another role as a casino blackjack dealer.

Ralph Fiennes is incredible in a dual role as Roald Dahl as the man who revealed how learned this story about Henry Sugar and his meetings with him and in a small role as a policeman who is upset with an incident that Sugar causes. Finally, there’s Benedict Cumberbatch in a phenomenal dual performance as the titular character who is this wealthy man that becomes obsessed in learning this skill so he can win at gambling only to gain something even more fulfilling while Cumberbatch also plays a small role as a makeup artist who works for Sugar later in the film.

The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar is a tremendous film by Wes Anderson. Featuring a great cast, wondrous visuals, and an inventive screenplay. It is a short film that takes one of Roald Dahl’s overlooked short stories and turns into a story of a man’s obsession in a story he read only to find something far more valuable than what he originally intended to use with this skill he discovered. In the end, The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar is a spectacular film from Wes Anderson.

Wes Anderson Films: Bottle Rocket - Rushmore - The Royal Tenenbaums - The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou - Hotel Chevalier - The Darjeeling Limited - Fantastic Mr. Fox - Moonrise Kingdom - Castello Cavalcanti - The Grand Budapest Hotel - Isle of Dogs - The French Dispatch - Asteroid City - The SwanThe Rat CatcherPoison – (The Phoenician Scheme) - The Auteurs #8: Wes Anderson

Wes Anderson Film Soundtracks: Bottle Rocket - Rushmore - The Royal Tenenbaums - The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou - Seu Jorge-The Life Aquatic Studio Sessions - The Darjeeling Limited - Fantastic Mr. Fox - (Moonrise Kingdom) – (The Grand Budapest Hotel) – (Isle of Dogs) – (The French Dispatch) – (Asteroid City)

© thevoid99 2024


Birgit said...

I really esmt to see this because I love Wes anderson films and this looks great with Benedict in there..another fav of mine.

ruth said...

I have been putting off watching Wes Anderson short series on Netflix but this one intrigues me the most because of Dev Patel and Richard Ayoade, LOVE those two!

thevoid99 said...

@Birgit-This is definitely a must as I plan to watch the rest of the shorts this month.

@ruth-They're great in this as I have 3 more shorts to see from this series that is on Netflix.

Brittani Burnham said...

I really liked this one! It was my favorite of the shorts he did.

thevoid99 said...

@Brittani-I really enjoyed this as I'm finishing up my review of the 2nd short in The Swan.