Director: Afonso Poyart
Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Colin Farrell
Synopsis: A psychic works with the FBI in order to hunt down a serial killer.
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Apparently, Solace began life as a sequel to David Fincher’s Se7en in which the character played by Morgan Freeman has magically acquired psychic powers following his retirement. Not surprisingly, Fincher passed. So all references to Se7en were removed from the screenplay, and the lead character became the reclusive John Clancy, who is played with typically vague distraction by Anthony Hopkins (The Rite, Kidnapping Freddie Heineken). Clancy has retreated from the world following the harrowing death of his adult daughter from leukaemia and the subsequent break-up of his marriage, but he’s coaxed back out of retirement by his old friend, police detective Joe Merriweather (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). Merriweather’s partner, Katherine Cowles (Abbie Cornish – RoboCop) is sceptical but, ironically, it is she who inadvertently convinces Clancy to help the detectives when he experiences a bloody vision of her death as they shake hands.
The cops are getting nowhere in their pursuit of a serial killer who murders his victims by stabbing them in the back of the neck. The deaths are instantaneous and painless, and the victims show no sign of having fought to save their lives. After visiting the latest murder scene, Clancy soon deduces that all the victims were terminally ill – even though at least one victim was showing no symptoms of the illness that would have eventually claimed their life if their killer hadn’t already done so. How the killer knows about these incipient illnesses before they’re even diagnosed is almost as big a mystery as how he or she seems to know the cops’ every move in advance, even leaving a note predicting the exact time they will arrive at a murder scene. It’s not longe before Clancy suspects they are chasing a psychic with even stronger powers than his own, and that he and his colleagues are all being led down a meticulously prepared path by the killer they are hunting.
Afonso Poyart’s second feature bears all the hallmarks of a talented novice still learning his craft, but lacking the discipline to prevent stepping over the line between flair and pretension. Pointless mini zoom-ins abound in Solace. From a distance of approximately 15 metres we see Hopkins emerge from a house, then we zoom in so that we’re now maybe 13.5 metres away. Why? Who knows? Because Poyart believes it looks cool, presumably. The truth is, he’s probably the only one who does. For the rest of us, it’s evidence of a director trying to wow his audience through the use of visual techniques rather than things which genuinely impress, like use of mood, atmosphere, location, or performances. His use of wobbly-cam proves particularly distracting; the only place that an aimlessly roaming camera should be acceptable these days is in the calmer moments of found-footage movies – in anything else they’re just a pointless affectation that has been done to death over the past fifteen years. Clancy’s psychic visions are presented as a series of cryptic images, most of which provide only extraneous background detail – a baby’s bottle falling to the ground, a holiday poster of two people walking on a beach, and so on – which is of no help to us or him, and leaves us to wonder why it is that so-called psychics – both fictional and real – rarely see anything useful or concrete in their visions – like the face of the killer as they commit the deed, for example…
Solace is built around a good idea, and the plot is intriguing, not for its psychic vs psychic angle, but because of the killer’s apparently altruistic – if misguided – motive, causing us to ask ourselves what we would do if we had the power to spare the sick from suffering the horrors of a lingering, painful death. Ultimately, though, Solace fudges the issue for the sake of a twist ending which contributes little to the story other than to provide us with a clue as to the path Clancy’s life will presumably take after the credits have rolled. Hopkins is always value for money, even when he appears to be wondering where he is half the time, but journeyman actor Jeffrey Dean Morgan fails to capitalise on a part that could have left a real imprint on the movie in the hands of a more forceful personality, and Abbie Cornish has little chance of making anything out of a character that somehow remains largely peripheral while being key to the plot. Colin Farrell, who by now has a fair number of clunkers under his belt, makes a late but surprisingly effective appearance, but by then most viewers will have given up on the picture. Solace is an adequate time-passer filled with bright ideas, but none of them are fully realised.
(Reviewed 24th March 2016)