Thursday, October 21, 2010

Shopping for Lungs: Inhale

Evidently, if you pop over the border to Juarez, in addition to some cheap tequila and genuine Mexican stoplight candy, you can also pick up some human organs. Unfortunately, the sellers are kind of particular. You don’t call them, they call you. This is a problem for the desperate father in Baltasar Kormákur’s Inhale (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

The law is the law for prosecutor Paul Stanton. He is even throwing the book at a man accused of shooting the predator suspected of molesting his child. Tough case. Sadly, Stanton has problems of a different nature with his own daughter. Her lungs are rapidly deteriorating and only a transplant can save her. While perusing the organ waiting list, the Stanton family doctor notices something funny. James Harrison, Stanton’s pseudo-mentor and front-running gubernatorial candidate, had his name taken off the list. In theory there are only two ways this could happen, a successful transplant or death.

It turns out Harrison got a mysterious call, offering him an organ transplant if he showed up in Juarez with a briefcase full of cash. Under ether most of the time, all Harrison can offer Stanton is a name—Dr. Novarro, which the big clumsy Yankee starts recklessly throwing around as soon as he crosses the border. Not surprisingly, this gets his butt thoroughly kicked several times over.

Icelandic director Kormákur (best known for Jar City) seems to have a knack for capturing the gritty border town milieu, appropriately steeping the film in seediness. He sets up the ticking clock tension fairly effectively as well. However, Inhale’s character development is a very mixed bag. Perhaps the greatest surprise is the evenhandedness of the Harrison character. Though clearly identified as a Republican, the film never indulgences in political cheap shots. As he tells Stanton straight-up, he never took bribes or abused his position. The only time he ever broke the law was his jaunt as an organ tourist, which he did not initiate (and who can blame him?). Indeed, Sam Shepard brings some convincing color to political wheeler-dealer, without resorting to caricature.

Though not given much to work with as Stanton’s concerned wife, Diane Kruger is also able to scratch out some memorable moments. Unfortunately, their daughter Chloe is rather thinly sketched out. However, Paul Stanton is a wholly problematic tangle of contradictions. Dermot Mulroney brings a real intensity to the role, but at the risk of hinting at spoilers, his do-gooder sensibilities assert themselves at the darnedest times. One would think if you traipse across the border looking to buy a lung, you have essentially crossed an ethical Rubicon. Instead, we get a lot of overwrought moral anguish that is not believable for a second.

Strangely, the Scandinavian Kormákur has a good feel for the divey cantinas and sketchy clinics of Juarez. Yet, Walter Doty and John Claflin’s script is just riddled with head-scratching moments that will probably sacrifice general audience satisfaction along with its overall credibility. A strangely self-imploding film, Inhale opens this Friday (10/22) in New York at the IFC Center.