Starring: Russell Crowe, Jon Foster, Sophie Traub, and Laura Dern
Distributor: Lionsgate Films
Runtime: 101 mins. Reviewed in Nov 2011
This film is based on Robert Cormier’s dark novel, which is adapted for the screen by Emil Stern. It is a psychological thriller, involving a psychopath, a veteran detective who pursues him, and a precocious girl who is obsessed with the dark side of life. It is a small character study for Russell Crowe who takes the role of Lieutenant Cristofuoro, the detective, who is convinced that Eric Poole (Jon Foster), a juvenile killer just released from prison, will kill again. Lori (Sophie Traub), who is suicidal, is attracted by Eric’s past and the events surrounding his crime; she is a witness to one of his murders and she tracks him down and wants to become part of his life. Eric’s world becomes chaotic, as he tries to cope with the volatile and depressed young runaway, who is annoying him, and the detective, who is pursuing him. The possibility is always there for Eric to commit another murder, and even for Lori to be his next victim. It was Cristofuoro who put Eric behind bars for the murder of his family, but he may also be living out an obsession that shows he has never been able to put Eric’s crimes out of his mind; it is unclear whether his own agenda is entirely healthy. With all these complications, the stage is set for a dramatic thriller that tries to do justice to the explanation of mental illness, but the plot is too complex for that hope to be ever realised, and we actually learn more about Lori’s mental illness than we do about Eric’s.
Crowe’s role in the movie is a supporting one, and he obviously lent his stature to the production of an Australian movie that appealed. This is a pessimistic movie about multiple conflicts, and it lacks subtlety in the interactions of its main protagonists. The quality of acting is patchy. Traub demonstrates Lori’s precociousness with great vigour; Crowe is always watchable; and Laura Dern, who was nominated for an Academy Award as leading actress for “Rambling Rose” in 1991, plays Eric’s aunt very well. Jon Foster as Eric looks bemused by it all.
John Polson, the film’s director, who gave us the cult hit, “Swimfan” has shown a liking in the past for melancholic character studies. This film is no exception, but the film never comes to grip with the nature of Eric’s mental illness. The plot, as it unravels, might keep you guessing at times, but the complexities of character development among the main players remain elusive. The film gives Russell Crowe scope for this to occur, but the opportunity is squandered. Perhaps the most interesting thing about the movie is the meaning of its title, “Tenderness”. The film starts with the tender kiss of a murderer for the young girl he is killing, and ends with the tenderness of Cristofuoro’s loving care for his seriously ill wife. But the most controversial meaning of all, is what we learn almost in passing, mid-way: Eric is addicted to the intimacy of killing, and to the tenderness of the act. This is not an easy theme to accept, but there are sociologists who argue for its validity.
Because of its content, this is not a movie that is suitable for children. There is no excessive blood and gore, and the body count number is small, but violence lurks in its background; and a young suicide occurs, which is always distressing. For those who like dark movies, this film will appeal, but it won’t to those who come to the movie wanting to see a tension-filled thriller, unravelling with subtle edginess that is satisfying for what we learn ultimately about the characters involved. In this way, the movie essentially disappoints, but it has its moments, and single scenes and some of the dialogue are etched very vividly in the mind.
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