While the story centres on twisted moral dilemmas, this 1970s-set thriller takes such a hesitant, internalised approach that if never lets viewers under the characters' skin. As a result, there's virtually no spark of real life here, despite the presence of several fine actors and a twisty plot that focusses on how decisions affect relationships. It's an oddly muted approach to events that really should have a much stronger emotional jolt.
It's 1974 Brooklyn, where Chris (Clive Owen) has just been released after 10 years in prison. His police detective brother Frank (Billy Crudup) offers help with finding a place to stay, getting a job and escaping his former life of crime, but the options are limited. While trying to reconnect with his junkie-prostitute ex Monica (Marion Cotillard), Chris also begins dating the younger Natalie (Mila Kunis). And he finds himself drifting back into his old gangster role. This causes a conflict of interest for Frank in his work as a cop, especially since he's further compromised by having an affair with Vanessa (Zoe Saldana), whose boyfriend (Matthias Schoenaerts) he's just put in jail.
Filmmaker Guillaume Canet is remaking the 2008 French thriller Rivals (in which he played the Frank character), and he recreates the period beautifully, shooting the film in a grainy 1970s style that emphasises character over action. So it's odd that the characters feel so thinly written, with most of the ambiguity drained from each moral issue they face. Much of this is because everyone is pushing their emotions away and internalising their thought processes so no one else can see them. But this leaves the audience out in the cold. And as a result, everything feels obvious and inevitable, which makes it impossible to get involved as events escalate. It's as if these people are tragic losers, so no amount of sympathy will save them.
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