Tuesday, May 9, 2017

THE DROWNING: Bette Gordon's adaptation of Pat Barker's novel, Border Crossing, misfires

Award-winning British writer Pat Barker's novel Regeneration received a good film adaptation back in 1997 (the movie has since been re-titled Behind the Lines), but so far as I know, most of her work remains unfilmed. This changes some, though not for the better, with the release of the new movie THE DROWNING, based on Barker's 2001 novel Border Crossing. The filmmaker here -- Bette Gordon -- is one whose work I have much admired, especially her 2009 movie Handsome Harry. Not having read the source novel by Ms Barker, TrustMovies can only go by the screenplay adaptation, credited to Stephen Molton and Frank Pugliese, which is pretty much a hash. It seems to want to keep us guessing, regarding of one the story's leading characters. Yet, because it also keeps pointing rather directly to that character's guilt and total inability to be trusted, the result makes the other lead character, our protagonist, seem like a total jerk for continuing to behave as he does.

Ms Gordon, pictured at left, gives her film a moodiness that does go a certain distance in pulling us in -- the bleak New England scenery proves a help here -- and her opening is indeed a grabber, as a loving couple takes a walk, only to be hit with the sight of what appears to be a young man, below, about to commit suicide by jumping into uncertain waters.

Yet what follows -- tons of coincidence that reeks more of plotting and planning than of happenstance -- seems so deliberately and aggressively created to keep us off-balance (remember Jagged Edge: the granddaddy and best example of this sort of thing?) that it all soon grows more tiresome than interesting.

The good cast -- a couple of B-listers and one up-and-comer -- does what it can with this scenario. Josh Charles (below, right, and at bottom) plays the would-be "hero," a shrink who turns out to have more than a nodding acquaintance with the young man he rescues from that water, but the under-rated Julia Stiles (below, left) is rather wasted in the completely re-active role of the shrink's wife. (If you haven't seen Ms Stiles' ace performance in that terrific black comedy It's a Disaster, put that one on your list).

In the role of the "suicidal" antagonist, Avan Jogia (below), keeps us guessing until he begins to mostly annoy us -- given his character's rather obvious traits. Is this kid evil? Or not? And whose responsibility might it be to take care of this?

Everyone we meet, from his parole officer (Tracie Thoms) to his shrink to his dad to -- well, you name 'em -- has evidently been compromised in some major way. This would appear to be the kid's special skill, but the movie also lays much of this at the feet of the far-too-stupid characters, especially our shrink, below, who surround him.

If you make it through the finale, you will indeed get a drowning, but by then, the movie has totally gone off the rails. There is no depth to any of these characters -- just a lot of creaky, pasted-together exposition to explain the past. Consequently, the question that the movie's poster (at top) asks: If evil exists, can it be transformed? gets no real answer.

From Paladin and running 99 minutes, The Drowning opens in New York City tomorrow, Wednesday, May 10, at the IFC Center and is said to be moving from there into limited national release. 

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