'Solace': Film Review
Star turns by Anthony Hopkins and Colin Farrell as psychic adversaries boost box office prospects for this neo-noir thriller that's been 15 years in the making.
Afonso Poyart’s Solace finally sees the light of day after a long gestation and difficult birth, followed by more than a year spent locked away in a cupboard. Many hands were set to work on the screenplay which at one point – word had it – was being tailored to become a sequel to David Fincher’s Se7en. Two trailers issued over the summer left opinion divided, and even the billing of Anthony Hopkins alongside Colin Farrell has so far failed to convince US distributors to take it on board. The good news is that the movie is half decent. The caveat is that it could have been a lot better.
Opening in France and scheduled for a UK opening later this month, Solace is pitched as a neo-noir police thriller in the same vein as Se7en, Zodiac or The Silence of the Lambs. John Clancy (Hopkins) is a retired police doctor who happens to have psychic powers, including the ability to see into the future (the French title is Premonitions). A former FBI colleague, Joe Merriwether (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) persuades him back onto the beat to help track down a serial killer who, he gradually realises, also has psychic powers – powers that are greater than his own. Furthermore, he detects that all the victims had one thing in common: they were all suffering from diseases which – whether they knew it or not, and generally they did not – meant that they were doomed to die a painful death in the not too distant future.
For most of the first and second acts the movie follows the genre conventions with little evidence of originality. Clancy’s early spat and later warming relationship with Merriwether’s sidekick Katherine Cowles (Abbie Cornish), a specialist in psychology, the slo-mo and flash-cut visions with suggestions of occult influences, the portentous-percussive soundtrack, the initial suspect who escapes and is killed in a shoot-out following a car chase, are all straight out of the gothic crime thriller tool-kit.
The movie steps up a gear when the killer Charles Ambrose (Farrell) finally (on the hour mark) appears on screen and the dialogue starts tackling delicate issues such as the rights and wrongs of mercy killing. By now Clancy and Farrell are fully engaged in a game of cat-and-mouse in which it’s the killer who clearly has the upper hand. The action builds to a gripping confrontation in a subway carriage in which Ambrose’s motives are made plain and the conflict is resolved.
It’s all tosh, of course, but no more than par for the course. There are tonal incongruities, partly the consequence of the decision to use the down-and-dirty serial killer format to discuss a serious social and philosophical issue, and possibly also arising from the multiplicity of writers. An original script by Ted Griffin (Ocean‘s Eleven) co-written with Sean Bailey (better known in the industry as Disney’s president of production), dating back 15 years, was given a final going-over by Peter Morgan (The Queen, Frost/Nixon), having received input along the way from Jamie Vanderbilt.
It’s a pleasure to see Hopkins, as he demonstrates his superhuman perceptive skills to his colleagues, reprising a few riffs from the Hannibal Lecter songbook, and one sharp exchange between Clancy and Ambrose in a café positively crackles with Shakespearean eloquence.
The direction by Brazilian helmer Poyart (Two Rabbits) is workmanlike, though the occasional splitting of characters into multiple images of themselves is perhaps a flourish too far. Shot on location in Atlanta, the movie presents solid technical credentials, though at times the editing and even the lighting leave something to be desired. The secret withheld by Clancy and revealed at the denouement is fair enough, but the tacked-on Hollywood ending may have some spectators groaning.
With these and other production flaws, Solace is never going to achieve anything like the cult status of its models. That said, Hopkins gives full value for money as the troubled medium, and during the relatively short time he is onscreen the Irish-born Farrell, his profile considerably raised since his starring role in the second season of True Detective, demonstrates why his star is on the rise Stateside. The chemistry they achieve is a powerful argument for giving Solace its chance on the multiplex circuit.
Production companies: Silver Reel, FlynnPictureCo., Eden Rock Media
Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Colin Farrell, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Abbie Cornish, Kenny Johnson, Luisa Moraes
Director: Afonso Poyart
Writers: Ted Griffin, Sean Bailey, Jamie Vanderbilt, Peter Morgan
Producers: Beau Flynn, Thomas Augsberger, Tripp Vinsson, Matthias Emcke, Claudia Bluemhuber
Director of photography: Brendan Galvin
Production designer: Brad Ricker
Editor: Lucas Gonzaga
Costume designer: Denise Wingate
International sales: FilmNation