Girl With a Pearl Earring

Scarlett Johansson, 19, is already reason enough to see any movie she's in (OK, not counting Eight Legged Freaks). From Manny and Lo and Ghost World to Lost in Translation, in which she holds her own with the great Bill Murray, Johansson blends beauty, passion and wit with the innate grace of a born star.

Her talents certainly light up Girl With a Pearl Earring, in which she plays Griet, a Calvinist servant in the Catholic household of Johannes Vermeer (a starchy turn from the usually charming Colin Firth). He's the Dutch master who immortalized her in the painting of the same name. Or at least he did in the best seller by Tracy Chevalier on which the film is based. It's all guesswork, of course, since details on Vermeer's life (1632--1675) are as scant as his output. As Olivia Hetreed's script would have it, Vermeer drove his wife (Essie Davis) -- the mother of their eleven children -- mad with jealousy over his attentions to Griet, who even had Vermeer's lecherous patron (Tom Wilkinson) and the butcher's studly son (Cillian Murphy) drooling. Despite the lust in the air and the bustle provided by Vermeer's controlling mother-in-law (the very good Judy Parfitt), the film feels as static as a still life. First-time director Peter Webber and cinematographer Eduardo Serra nearly make up for the biopic blather by lighting the film so exquisitely that each frame looks like a Vermeer. Near the end, when Griet puts on that earring and Johansson magically morphs into the figure on that canvas, you'll be knocked for a loop. Frankly, with this Scarlett around, you do give a damn.

From The Archives Issue 941: February 5, 2004