A Film Review By Michael Haley
|Rating:Rated PG-13 for some language, sexual situations and brief violence
Starring: Stars Katie Holmes, Benjamin Bratt, Charlie Hunnam, Zooey Deschanel, Gabriel Mann, Gabrielle Union
Directed By:Stephan Gaghan
Thrillers. Can’t live with them, can live without them if the title rhymes with Swimfan. The trailers for Abandon aren’t terribly promising, as the film is advertised like basically everything else out there…big shocks, dramatic crescendos, and cardboard characters whose only purpose to scream real loud and have sex with the killer. However, I noticed that this film was written and directed by the Stephan Gaghan, the writer of Traffic, so I thought that maybe this one might be different. And you know something? It is. Make no mistake, this is no masterpiece, but Gaghan ultimately delivers an affecting film that is a cut above the rest. That might not be saying much, but hey…
Katie Holmes stars as Katie (it must have been a real stretch playing someone with such an exotically different name), a college senior nearing the end of her year. She’s working on her thesis, trying to nail a good job with a respectable corporation, and trying to stay cool under so much stress. A detective played by Bratt comes into town, and inquires her about a previous boyfriend (Hunnam) whom mysteriously disappeared two years prior, the working theory being he took off to Europe. As the pressures of college steadily get worse, she begins to see her ex more often, and believes that he has come back from Europe for her. That’s about all I can really say before I start giving away spoilers, so I think I’ll stop the plot summary right about there.
From the plot description and the trailer for the movie, you can probably already imagine a direction this story is going, complete with supposedly scary music, lots of running, and the like. However, Gaghan rather instead takes the time for us to get to know these characters, and the narrative pushes forward not on idiotic plot points, but on real decisions made by rounded individuals. In a perfect world, that wouldn’t need to be praise of a film but a standard, but with the tripe that is the thriller genre that just isn’t so. Some of my co-workers (and by that I mean all but myself and one other) considered the pace of the film to crawl at a snail’s pace, but I digress…the pacing is pitch perfect, as the tension builds on the emotional mood of these characters, and not necessarily on whether the killer (if there is one) happens to be right around the corner or not. Holmes is especially effective in the role, as she needs to convey someone vulnerable yet suggests a ticking time bomb willing to erupt at any moment. The acting is fairly solid across the board, and the actors actively engage the audience instead of bafooning around before them.
What was particularly striking about the feature wasn’t so much the story, but the incredible use of colors and images to convey the theme and the interior states of the characters. The blue tint that was ever so prevalent throughout Traffic is back in full force, subtly conveying Holmes’ apparent misery effectively. Also, the typical party scene is here, but the use of lighting and color is so striking that it stands out alone, and is so well executed that it’s scary. The only complaint I have there (at least in this respect, the film isn’t flawless) is that the party sequence is just a little too good, fore it possesses the possibility to take the film in a completely different, more compelling direction…the film is good as is, but could have been excellent had this thread been explored more fully.
Well, this wouldn’t be a Haley review without any negatives (save Spirited Away, a virtually flawless film), so here we go. First off, although there are plenty of clues sprinkled throughout the film as to what the ending will be, I wasn’t entirely convinced by it. Granted, the movie doesn’t cheat, and the ending (and movie) is more interesting than the typical thriller, but something about it just didn’t click for me. If you pay real close attention, you might be able to guess what really happened, but I ask is it worth guessing? This isn’t one of those Sixth Sense twists that demands a second viewing to pick up on everything that was missed the first time. Also, the movie depends heavily upon light, and as a result, several edits with contrasts often cause a headache on your eyes…granted, it gives a good effect psychologically, but physically required me to take an aspirin afterwards.
Also, and this has always been a complaint for me among movies featuring young characters, is that at times the dialogue doesn’t feel natural…in other words, it’s a little too smart for it’s own good. It doesn’t feel at times like the diction of these college students would really be uttered by a real college student, such as the usual line, “You did him, didn’t you?” Come on, I haven’t heard that one since I was eleven, and if Gaghan was trying to pull us out of the moment, he succeeded very well. By this age, people are more than likely to go ahead and say the “S” word (sex), or remark, “Did you go home with him last night?” I know that sounds like nitpicking, but it frankly irritates the hell out of me to hear dialogue that sounds like Grandpa trying to be young, and I’d be lying if I said otherwise. A degree of shallowness is necessary to make realistic conversation, but it has to be shallowness one would actually hear, not just made up.
These gripes aside, Abandon is one of the more effective thrillers of the year, and I had a good time. In a world populated with films that beg the question, “What happens when you pick up your phone? YOU DIE!!” it’s nice to watch something with real psychology involved (not delved into so as not to give away the movie). Yet something tells me that the movie’s strengths will only cause audiences to abandon it at the box office…