My Name Is Modesty (2003)

Director: Scott Spiegel
Starring: Alexandra Staden, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Raymond Cruz, Fred Pearson, Eugenia Yuan,
Music: Deborah Lurie
Based on Characters created by Peter O’Donnell

Time was running out for Miramax films, who held the film rights to the character Modesty Blaise. They had to make a film quickly or lose those rights. My Name Is Modesty is the result. It isn’t a ‘bad’ picture, but it is a low budget production which attempts to tell a small story about how Modesty, became Modesty Blaise. It is not a slam-bang action film. And in no way does it resemble the 1966 film, Modesty Blaise (and that is a good thing!) It was filmed in Romania and shot over a period of eighteen days…as you can see; it wasn’t exactly a labour of love…more of a contractual obligation.

The film starts off with a slick monochromatic title sequence, which uses pop-art colours. Since Modesty began her life as a comic-strip character, this seems appropriate. Then the story starts, somewhere in the Balkans…

In the middle of a war zone, a group of soldiers take a break from the carnage to eat. In the ruins is a young girl, Modesty of course, in tattered rags. It appears that her family is dead, and she lives amongst the rubble. One of the soldiers offers her a can of food, and asks her name. No reply. She takes it, and then is gone!

Eleven years later we are in a casino in Tangiers. Modesty Blaise (Alexandra Staden) is now one of the managers of the casino. She says:

“Everybody is born with a certain amount of luck. Some spend their luck on cards – some spend it at the roulette wheel – one in thirty-six chances – for the lucky, the brave or the foolish. One in thirty-six did I say? Actually no! One out of thirty-seven. Most people like to forget that the odds are stacked against them!”

Although Modesty is in charge of the casino, she doesn’t own it. Her boss is Henri Louche (Valetin Teodosin). Louche is planning some ‘big’ deal. We aren’t told what it is, but we know it is illegal and requires him to have a large amount of cash in the casino vault. As Louche, is chauffeured home, his car is ambushed and he is shot and killed.

Then the assailants burst through the door of the casino and shoot up the place. Naturally enough (in case you haven’t worked it out), they are after the money in the vault. Unfortunately for them, their itchy trigger fingers have killed all the people who know the combination. Well, except for one man, Garcia (Raymond Cruz) who has taken the evening off and is ‘entertaining’ a lady friend out of town.

The head of assailants, mercenaries if you will, is Myklos (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). He is a blood thisty, shoot first – ask questions later kind of guy. He now finds himself in a predicament. He takes all the staff hostage and threatens to shoot one person at a time till he is given the combination to the vault. Modesty takes control and explains that only one man can open it. She calls him on the phone, with a gun at her temple, so she can’t warn him. Garcia prepares to make his way back to the casino, but it will take him a few hours to make the journey.

While the mercenaries and the captive casino staff wait for him to return, Myklos and Modesty engage in a game of roulette to pass the time. If Modesty wins three spins in a row, one of the hostages is released. If Myklos wins, he gets to ask Modesty a question about her past. Why is he, a cold-blooded killer, so infatuated with Modesty? Let’s just say it is one of the conceits of the script, so that we can see via flashback how Modesty Blaise became the person she is today.

If you can get over the ‘smallness’ of this picture, it almost succeeds. The idea of explaining the origins of Modesty’s character is a good one – and even the films structure, given it’s budgetry and time constraints is pretty good. The real weak link is Alexandra Staden as Modesty. She certainly looks the part, but in a small (there’s that word again) ensemble piece like this, you really need an actress who is ‘electric’ as Modesty. Staden does not have the charisma or the depth to bring Modesty to life. It is pivotal that she dominates her screen time, and this doesn’t happen.

Many other reviews for My Name Is Modesty are fairly scathing, which isn’t an accurate reflection on this film. It is very flawed, that’s for sure, but if you have an interest in Peter O’Donnell’s character then this movie is not a total waste of time. It presents a different insight into one of popular cultures most loved heroines.

Let’s hope that if another Modesty Blaise film is made, that they finally get it right.

This review is based on the Miramax Home Entertainment USA DVD

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