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Film Review: Sleepy Hollow

Tim Burton is one of the most visually inventive directors working within the Hollywood regime. He manages to bring originality and imagination to every film he makes. When he manages to marry this quirky style with a strong story (as in 'Ed Wood' or 'Beetlejuice') the results can be twistedly brilliant. However, when his visual excess is ill-served by a weak or pointless story, as in 'Mars Attacks', it can be a complete mess.

'Sleepy Hollow' is based on a classic story by famous American writer Washington Irving. Johnny Depp plays Ichabod Crane, a cowardly New York detective sent upstate to the farming community of Sleep Hollow to investigate a series of decapitations. The village people, including the beautiful Katrina Van Tasell (Christina Ricci). are convinced that it is the ghost of a former mercenary, which they call the Headless Horseman. However, Crane is determined to prove that the villain is flesh and bone, and begins to suspect that a conspiracy amongst the wealthier sections of Sleep Hollow may be at work.

'Sleep Hollow' has been marketed misleadingly as a horror film. It is not in the least but frightening, but it is a hugely enjoyable gothic thriller with a deep vein of black humour. The script by 'Seven' writer Andrew Kevin Walker revels in the shadiness of its characters, as much as the murky countryside of Sleepy Hollow. It creates an engaging reluctant hero in Depp's Crane. However, the romantic subplot involving Katrina is severely undercooked, as is Christina Ricci's entire part.

The acting is strong throughout. Depp finally seems to be able to relax into a part, and he plays Crane perfectly, catching every nervous tick and does an excellent clipped British accent. Ricci is given nothing to do except stand and look angelic and virginal (quite an achievement in itself after her vampy, bitchy role in 'The Opposite of Sex'). The supporting cast, including British thesps such as Michael Gambon and Miranada Richardson has a ball hamming it up in the best Hammer Horror tradition.

Burton has created perhaps the most visually arresting film of the year. Filmed in muted grey and blues with mist swirling in every scene, he could not have created a better atmosphere for the ridings of the Headless Horseman. Whilst the atmosphere is diluted as the ham quotient rises, the early sequences are drenched in nervous expectation. Don't be surprised if 'Sleepy Hollow' pops up in a few Oscar categories for its lush cinematography, production design and costumes.

The Headless Horseman himself is brilliant. Special kudos should go to Ray Park (Darth Maul in 'The Phantom Menace') for his brilliant stunts and flair with a broad sword. The film ignites whenever he is on screen.

Don't look for any depth in the film. It is all about surface gloss and short-lived excitement but - thankfully- it delivers in spades. Your ultimate verdict on the film may rest on whether you find Crane's effeminate cowardice funny or irritating, but for me, it was a surreal and gothic delight.

Ian O'Sullivan

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