R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir Mikael Håfström
scr Stuart Beattie
with Clive Owen, Jennifer Aniston, Vincent Cassel, Melissa George, RZA, Giancarlo Esposito, Addison Timlin, Tom Conti, Xzibit, David Morrissey, Rachel Blake, Georgina Chapman
release US 11.Nov.05, UK 3.Feb.06
05/US Miramax 1h47

Should we or shouldn't we? Aniston and Owen

owen aniston cassel

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Derailed Swedish director Hafstrom (Evil) gives a striking visual sheen to this simplistic thriller, essentially a variation on Fatal Attraction, with exactly the same themes.

Charles (Owen) is an overworked Chicago ad-man with a wife (George) and daughter (Timlin) in the suburbs. Much of his attention has gone toward earning money to pay for the daughter's kidney transplant, straining his marriage as a result. So he's vulnerable when he meets the flirty Lucinda (Aniston) on a commuter train. But just as they begin a tentative affair, they're assaulted by the French thug Laroche (Cassel), who turns into a menacing extortionist and threatens to destroy Charles' entire life.

The plot is both preposterous and predictable--alert viewers will see the twists coming. So it's the central issues that keep us gripped, asking as things get increasingly tense, "What would I do here?" The problem is that all of the characters make such bad decisions that it's difficult to feel any sympathy at all, no matter how engaging the performances or how stylishly the film looks.

There's a nice Hitchcockian vibe running through this wronged-man story, and Owen plays Charles with a surprisingly energetic charm, balanced by Aniston's sexy fragility and Cassel's kinetic viciousness. From the moment they come together, these three seem locked in a death struggle, with increasingly threatening situations in which no one's remotely innocent. It's also nice to see Aniston play a darker, murkier character than normal (to match her darker, murkier hairdo).

Hafstrom has some superb jolts up his sleeves, and even gives the supporting cast character-defining scenes. Esposito is fascinating in the under-written detective role; RZA is surprisingly effective as Charles' ex-con coworker; Conti is rarely seen as Charles' boss; Xzibit is pretty bad as Laroche's sidekick.

Gaping plot holes are plentiful, but not too glaring, although Beattie's script cheats by withholding some key information to make way for one last twist. The strangest thing, though, is how the filmmakers skip over the potential subtext (race/class issues) to make what's essentially a shallow, pointless thriller. Like a one-night stand, it's gripping while it lasts, but will be hard to remember in the morning.

cert 15 themes, violence, language 16.Nov.05

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© 2005 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall