Marc Forster's twisty psychological thriller, written by David Benioff, is yet another variation on the theme of Ambrose Bierce's An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge. If you've read the short story, you'll see where things are going in no time flat; if you h… (more)
Marc Forster's twisty psychological thriller, written by David Benioff, is yet another variation on the theme of Ambrose Bierce's An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge. If you've read the short story, you'll see where things are going in no time flat; if you haven't and want to be surprised, don't look it up. Down-to-earth psychiatrist Sam Foster (Ewan McGregor) inherits surly art-student Henry Lethem (Ryan Gosling) from his previous therapist, Dr. Beth Levy (Janeane Garofalo). Henry's announcement that he intends to kill himself at midnight on his 21st birthday, three days hence, entangles Sam and his fragile girlfriend and former patient, artist Lila (Naomi Watts), whom Sam nursed back from a near-fatal suicide attempt, in an increasingly puzzling series of events. The more Sam has to do with Henry, the less sense things make. Why does Henry insist that Leon (Bob Hoskins), the blind, childless psychiatrist who mentored Sam, is actually his dead father? What's with the piano movers and the mother with the small child whom Sam sees outside his apartment on two different days, repeating the exact same sequence of actions, right down to the child losing his balloon and a gruff workman assuring him that it's "gone to balloon heaven"? How is Henry able to predict future events, like the hailstorm that erupts out of a clear blue sky? What happened to Dr. Levy, who's in the babbling grips of a full-blown nervous breakdown, apparently triggered by her sessions with Henry? Why did Lila call Sam Henry and then say she didn't? The dots are all connected by the film's final scene, which is prefigured in the flashbacks that streak through earlier sequences like lightning flashes. The film is designed to be a fare-thee-well, the backgrounds crammed with significant details that provide oblique clues to what's really going on. Forster makes extraordinary use of New York City, choosing unfamiliar locations and framing them so they look nothing at all like the movie New York with which most people are familiar. The story's underlying twist is also probably why all the performances seem weirdly off, and why McGregor and Hoskins both perfectly capable of sounding pitch-perfect American deliver their lines in oddly nonspecific accents that call attention to themselves by being neither one thing nor another. But ultimately, it's a whole lot of style at the service of a story that adds up to nothing more than a great big "Gotcha!"
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