Mapplethorpe: Smith is outstanding, but the film’s pacing is a real problem

Mapplethorpe is now available to rent, buy or stream.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Ondi Timoner’s biopic of the revolutionary and conflicted artist Robert Mapplethorpe has moments of vision and ingenuity. Still, it ultimately falls into the same trap as many biopics by attempting to cover an entire life in a limited time frame. Robert Mapplethorpe challenged established views of the male body in art and the power of photography in redefining pornography. Here Mapplethorpe would balance evocative imagery with the beauty of nature and physical form in creating something groundbreaking and new.

Mapplethorpe’s life, in many ways, reflected art. He was catholic and had been raised to repress the very feelings he held inside while struggling to define his sexuality, place and purpose as he entered his teens and left home for New York. The job of portraying this complexity sits in the hands of Matt Smith. From the outset, Smith provides us with an outstanding performance that plays to the light and dark of Mapplethorpe, his relationships and eventual trappings of success.

However, in direction and pacing, Mapplethorpe never allows the audience to gain perspective on the artistic impulses that drove the man. Here we find ourselves haphazardly jumping from one scene to the next as the movie attempts to cover Mapplethorpe’s entire adult life. Without question, Mapplethorpe would have been a more robust picture had it focussed on a shorter period in the artist’s life. Meanwhile, the darkness and light of Mapplethorpe’s photography also lack exploration, never allowing the audience to fully explore the interface between the natural world and the human body.

Despite an outstanding performance from Matt Smith, Mapplethorpe fails to capture the artistic drive and impulses of Robert Mapplethorpe, rushing from one scene to the next in a haphazard manner, never allowing the audience too close to the artist and his work.

Country: USA 🇺🇸

Director: Ondi Timoner

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