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Movie Review: "The Look of Love"

Rating: NR (Not Rated)

Length: 101 minutes

Release Date: July 7, 2013

Directed by: Michael Winterbottom

Genre: Biography/Comedy/Drama

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Paul Raymond (Steve Coogan) went from a humble beginning to emerge as one of the most notorious men in recent British history. He did so by opening England's first strip club, which made him enough money to go on and become a very successful real estate developer and publisher of pornographic magazines, the latter cemented his place as one of the richest men in the country. The story of his rise to fame, infamy, and fortune is at the heart of "The Look of Love."

Raymond opens that first strip club under fire because lots of people think he is bringing down decency standards and changing the fabric of society. Raymond disagrees with these assertions and uses some of the money he earns from his highly successful club to start a publishing empire, releasing titles such as Men Only and Escort among others. He smartly diversifies his holdings, investing in real estate all over the Soho neighborhood of London, which is how he gets the heady moniker, King of Soho. He throws lavish, hedonistic parties full of drugs and booze and with women who aren't bothered by the fact the reputed lothario has a wife and child waiting for him at home.

While Raymond is busy being the King of Soho to the outside world, things aren't so sunny in his personal life. His wife Jean (Anna Friel), tired of his constant philandering, takes him to divorce court where a bitter battle for his millions ensues.

He begins to groom his beloved daughter Debbie (Imogen Poots) to take over the company when he is ready to retire. Debbie, fighting demons of her own, tragically dies of a heroin overdose before she can take over the keys to the kingdom. This sends Raymond into a tailspin from which he may never recover. Sure, he has two sons, but he is never as close to them as he was to Debbie, who was the light of his life. Even with his remaining two children supporting him, Raymond becomes a shell of himself, putting his entire publishing and real estate empire in jeopardy.

Coogan turns in a fantastic performance as Raymond, who was one of the most powerful men in all the UK in his heyday. He gives a performance worthy of that power, portraying Raymond's often hedonistic ways with ease. Coogan's performance is finely layered, as the audience is acutely aware that no matter how crazy Raymond occasionally acts at a party, he always knows what he is doing. The man is always in control, even in drunkenness, because he doesn't really know any other way to be. Coogan delivers his lines with the cool confidence of someone who is always aware of his surroundings and what everyone is doing. This is Coogan's fourth film with director Michael Winterbottom, who previously directed him in "24 Hour Party People," "A Cock and Bull Story," and "The Trip." This is arguably the most complex character Coogan has had to play in any of their collaborations, but his familiarity with and trust in Winterbottom helps coax out an outstanding portrayal.

Another reason Coogan succeeds is because he has good material to work with in the form of the film's screenplay. Writer Matt Greenhalgh has slowly and quietly made the transition from television writer to screenwriter, with "The Look of Love" being just his fourth full-length movie script. Though he also occasionally dabbles in directing shorts or being an assistant director on larger productions, it is fairly clear that he is a writer at heart. It isn't easy to write a film based on a real person, especially one as notorious as Paul Raymond, but much ink had already been spilled over the man and the many myths surrounding him, so Greenhalgh had plenty to work with. Some of the stories about Raymond contradict each other, but Greenhalgh is careful to put together a script that lays out a clear picture of the man. The script is crafted well and paced perfectly for a film in this genre.

Raymond was known for bringing nudity to Great Britain and was a notorious womanizer to boot. Some may think that this made him a misogynist, but the opposite was actually true. He loved strong women and surrounded himself with them, not the least of which was his wife Jean, who is played by Friel with guts and gusto. Though Coogan's performance obviously stands out here, it is important to note that the women of this film nearly steal the show with feisty performances that are a happy revelation in a surprisingly good film.


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