Vaughn Stein’s “Every Breath You Take” is a film of the most frustrating sort, a movie that sports a talented cast and begins with an interesting premise, only to fall apart.
A sense of stupidity slowly creeps in during the second act as seemingly intelligent characters suddenly behave in ways that defy all logic, while what seemed to be a well-constructed plot reveals itself to be nothing but a collection of narrative tropes that were showing their age some 30 years ago.
Casey Affleck is Phillip, a psychiatrist who adapts an unorthodox approach in treating a young woman in his care.
In an effort to gain her trust, he shares intimate details about his life, secrets and feelings he’s never divulged to anyone else, not even his wife, Grace (Michelle Monaghan).
He reveals this approach at a university conference and causes quite a stir, even more so when his patient commits suicide a few days later.
Needless to say, the good doctor’s reputation is in tatters, and things take an even stranger turn when his former patient’s brother, James (Sam Claflin), contacts him.
Seeking more information about his deceased sister, he soon ingratiates himself into Phillip’s family, casting eyes at his troubled teenage daughter, Lucy (India Eisley), and noting that Grace herself seems a bit neglected by her husband.
Stein and screenwriter David Murray resist going down the expected path ... for a while. To their credit, they take the time to delve into Grace’s past, revealing the tragedy that has torn her marriage asunder, while Lucy comes off as more than a petulant, rebellious teen, but rather a young woman with genuine cause for her behavior.
By not immediately exploiting the potential tawdry elements of the story, the filmmakers leave hope that this may be a thoughtful examination of grief and its emotional ramifications.
I was foolish to believe so. Yep, James uses his charm to seduce both mom and stepdaughter, which, to give Vaughn some credit, is handled as tastefully as it can be.
And while the film doesn’t wallow in these tawdry affairs, it does make the cardinal sin of suddenly making intelligent characters dumb as posts for the sake of expedience.
Nothing grates on me more than this type of lazy screenwriting. I dare you not to yell at the screen when Grace pulls off a bonehead move simply because Murray can’t think of a logical way to put her in peril.
Meanwhile, Phillip’s inability to speak clearly to a peer regarding the danger James poses is maddening.
It’s obvious that “Cape Fear” and “Fatal Attraction” are the touchstones here, the family threatened by an outside force allowed in via a breach in judgment by the patriarch.
To be fair, I haven’t seen these well-worn plot points in quite some time, but their absence did not make me fonder of them or make them seem fresh.
That the film devolves into becoming a tawdry slasher flick, replete with a mad escape from a mental institution, shows how unimaginative Stein and Murray’s approach is.
If nothing else, I took a reminder and a warning away from this film: Good actors do make bad movies, and beware the therapist who overshares.
Oh, and steer clear of any movie with either Stein or Murray’s names on it.
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