The part of Hollywood filmmaking that the moviegoing public rarely hears about, but is a daily reality of industry professionals, is “development hell.”
It’s where projects go to die, unless they’re lucky enough to claw out of the mire and onto the big screen. That’s where Solace, a dramatic thriller starring Anthony Hopkins as a psychic doctor tracking down a serial killer, was for well over a decade while making its way from the page to the screen.
A quick perusal around the internet will reveal the long journey of Solace, which started with a script penned by Ocean’s 11 and Matchstick Men scribe Ted Griffin in 2002 (Sean Bailey also has a writing credit), and was once developed as a sequel to David Fincher’s Se7en.
The story no longer exists in that universe, though there are some close similarities to other psycho-thrillers — notably, Silence of the Lambs with Hannibal Lecter himself on hand to chase down killers.
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This is worth mentioning because Solace feels very dated, with a sense of forced edginess that comes straight from the 1990s. Frankly, it seems like a tossed-off straight-to-video sequel, but the original movie doesn’t exist.
There are some fine actors on hand, notably Hopkins, as well as Abbie Cornish, who plays Katherine, a skeptical FBI psychological profiler forced to team up with the psychic John Clancy (Hopkins) thanks to her partner Joe (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), who shares a history with him.
As the team races from victim to victim, putting their collective expertise together, Clancy soon realizes that the killer they seek is many steps ahead of them, and that the two have more in common than he ever expected.
Brazilian director Afonso Poyart tackles Solace as his second feature effort, and he may have bitten off more than he can chew.
The film is ponderous, the performances mostly subdued. There are flashes of chemistry between Hopkins and Cornish, as well as Hopkins and a third-act Colin Farrell, but the sparks never catch fire.
Clancy’s psychic visions serve as an excuse for heavy-duty surreal imagery — flashes of flowers and blood and screams and snack foods abandoned on sidewalks, intruding and cycling over and over again, standing in for stuff of actual import. These arresting, if daft, sequences are a contrast to the drab, gray world of their reality.
At the core there’s ostensibly a muddled message about the burdens of seeing the future and what to do with that information — does one try to intervene in fate, knowing how the story of a person’s life plays out? Can one trust their own vision and intuition, or can human beings exert their own will on fate?
That kernel is lost in an overly convoluted tale drowned in creepy but essentially meaningless violent images and dry performances.
This thriller was never destined to be a classic and should have stayed out of sight for its own mercy.
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☆ 1/2 (out of five)
Director: Afonso Poyart
Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Abbie Cornish, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Colin Farrell
Rated: R (violence and bloody images throughout, sexuality, nudity and strong language)
Running time: 101 min.