Greetings again from the darkness. Psychological thrillers have long been my favorite genre of film. The best ones cause us to examine our own thoughts while analyzing the actions of others we probably don’t quite understand. Unfortunately, most scripts fall short in complexity and stimulation, and leave us with a half-empty character study. Director John Curran (The Painted Veil) and writer Angus MacLachlan (the superb Junebug) offer up a just-miss.
Robert DeNiro plays a parole officer on the brink of retirement. He is the guy that lives and works by the book to suppress his inner demons of which we get a glimpse in the film’s opening. Despite the horror, he and his wife stay married for decades … the relationship is built on a false worship of scripture and plenty of nerve-deadening booze. DeNiro decides to finish out his current files, one of which belongs to Edward Norton. He is an 8 year convict, serving a sentence for a crime that ended with the death of his grandparents.
The real fun begins when Norton enlists his schoolteacher wife, played by Milla Jovovich, to invade DeNiro’s cold facade. So really what we have is: DeNiro trying not to feel anything, Norton trying to pull one over on DeNiro either by himself or with his wife, and Jovovich trying desperately to obey her husband while playing evil mind and body games with DeNiro. This is the point I like to call “the table is set”.
Unfortunately, none of these story lines really go deep. The best seems to be Jovovich and DeNiro, but even that falls short of real grit. So much potential here and the actors all seem up for anything. It’s just the script lets them off way too easily.
Frances Conroy is excellent as DeNiro’s wife who had had her soul locked away. We never really get the full scoop on the Norton/Jovovich connection, but by the end, that doesn’t seem to matter. Is the film watchable? Yes. Could it have offered more deliciously evil interaction between these characters? Absolutely.
SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you have been patiently waiting for Edward Norton to put his hair in corn rows OR swigging whiskey while reading biblical scripture is a family tradition you could embrace
SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you get frustrated when a promising premise of intellectual battles fizzles right in front of your eyes OR if the mere thought of a Robert DeNiro / Milla Jovovich hook up causes you to reach for the Pepto Bismol.