Counter programming in the holiday season is a necessary adjunct for studios to market and enjoy a small slice of profitability. Take, for example, the wider release of Damien Chazelle’s La La Land this weekend. All of you ticketgoers who didn’t act quickly enough to snag pre-sale Star Wars: Rogue One seats or those who get turned away at the box office window when it’s sold out this weekend can enjoy a couple-friendly (and critic approved) musical-drama that, in all likelihood, will be battling for an Oscar come February.
I’m not sure the same runoff crowds will drip into Afonso Poyart’s Solace. This telekinesis/serial-killer thriller is so relentlessly somber and uninspired that even the final act twist involving a well-known face rings hollow in the service of a script that needlessly shows us how smart it is while the actors on-screen seem to be holding back their own boredom. That’s not a good combination for either counter programming or “b” movie curiosity.
The one positive thing about Solace is Anthony Hopkins as John Clancy, the retired doctor-cum-foreseer enlisted by his old FBI pal Joe (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) to help them catch a serial killer. With no specific correlation between victims besides the unobtrusive puncture wound at the base of the skull, Joe and partner Cowles (Abbie Cornish) reluctantly seek his outside help.
Saddled with a sob backstory and emitting only the stately presence we’re used to seeing from veteran actor Hopkins, he gives the film an anchor of reality, even if he happens to be someone who can see the future by simply brushing up against people or focusing on a multitude of possible outcomes by looking around the room. It’s preposterous, but he somehow sells the idea.
Less involving is the straightforward narrative of this incongruous stable of people tracking the highly elusive killer, prone to leaving taunting notes, such as the exact time they’ll walk into a murder scene or prerecording his own conversation to be projected onto a wall when the cops get too close. Only in movies such as this does the killer work so aggressively and precisely to chart and tease every move. It almost becomes exhaustive watching the intricate cat and mouse game established by a screenplay that overwrites every single action from motivation to three act structure.
Outside of the plot schematics, even more hurdles arise when Cowles, an intelligent FBI profiler herself, clashes with the metaphysical nature of Clancy’s abilities. Not only is their philosophical idea about the nature of criminals starkly different, but Clancy allows himself one good linguistic potshot just as their relationship begins. Their banter, early on, promises more than is delivered.
Replete with the usual red herrings, personal conflicts and sharp one-liners about a woman being sexier if she carries a gun, Poyart’s Solace never breaks from the mold of the grim precedents set by filmmakers decades ago, such as Alex Proyas or especially David Fincher. Set primarily at night, in driving rainstorms or in peeling and dilapidated housing tenements and freeway underpasses (in which the film’s most stirring set piece occurs), Solace is a largely unsuccessful thriller pieced together, both visually and thematically, from far superior efforts.
Still, it is good to see Hopkins back on screen. Relegating himself to smaller supporting roles in marginalized films (such as Misconduct with Al Pacino earlier this year), I guess he’s not really following up with his intention to retire, which makes cinema that much more alluring, even if he’s involved with something lackluster such as this.
Solace opens in the Dallas/Fort Worth area on Friday, December 16 at the AMC Mesquite 30 Imax.