Monday, December 12, 2016

Solace: Sir Anthony Hopkins Pursues a Serial Killer

Even though the Marvel Comics villain Destiny had precognitive powers, the X-Men still usually defeated her and the Brotherhood of [Evil] Mutants, although often under rather pyrrhic terms. Sometimes knowing the future just isn’t enough. Retired police doctor John Clancy has limited powers of prescience, yet he was still unable to prevent his daughter’s death from leukemia. He is still handy to have around during an investigation. Unfortunately, the serial killer he will investigate has the same powers, except they are even stronger in Afonso Poyart’s long-awaited Solace (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Special Agent Joe Merriweather is so frustrated in his hunt for an elusive serial killer, he tries to lure his former colleague Clancy back as a consultant. Frankly, it is sort of impressive Merriweather even picked up on the clues linking the cases. Naturally, Clancy is reluctant but something about the cases stimulates his Spidey sense. As to be expected, he initially clashes with Merriweather’s headshrinker partner, Agent Katherine Cowles, but she warms to him when she realizes he is the real deal. He also takes a liking to her, which makes his visions of her potential murder rather upsetting.

It turns out, all the victims had fatal diseases that were mostly undiagnosed, but on the verge of taking a horribly painful turn. Before long, Dr. Clancy realizes they are hunting someone much like himself, but more powerful, engaged in a spree of “mercy” killings. Things get really complicated when the adversaries start using their powers to get the drop on each other.

The good news is Solace is way better than you might have heard—truly legitimately so and not just as a function of low expectations. Reportedly, Solace was originally developed as a sequel to Se7en, but it is hard to see that lineage in the final film, aside from both having serial killer plots in common. Frankly, that is just as well. Solace is much more life-affirming film and often surprisingly clever. Arguably, it is miraculously cohesive considering how many screenwriters had a hand in its screenplay, including some pretty prestigious but uncredited scribes.

Of course, the commercial potential of a serial killer movie starring Sir Anthony Hopkins is self-evident. Although worlds removed from Hannibal Lecter (who nonetheless haunts the film like a ghost in the attic), Hopkins is terrific as the world-weary Clancy. He makes the woo-woo believable and gives a rousing third act defense of life should raise the hair on the back of everyone’s neck and ought to earn the film a robust following with pro-life, anti-euthanasia activists.

Once again, Jeffrey Dean Morgan proves he is one of the most under-rated actors working today, despite his high-profile work in Walking Dead, Watchmen, and dozens of other shows and films. As Merriweather, he gives the film a human grounding and develops a genuine sense of camaraderie with Hopkins. Colin Farrell takes his time showing up, but he makes the most of it when he does, creeping the scene up and chewing the scenery as the psychic killer, Charles Ambrose. He and Hopkins have some electric scenes together, sizing each other up and trying to out-brain each other. Australian rapper Abbie Cornish basically tries to get by on distant reserve as Cowles and she mostly gets away with it, because all eyes are really on Hopkins and Farrell.

Poyart really has a fitting sensibility for Solace, which is stylistically similar to his breakout Brazilian calling card 2 Rabbits, except this film features dizzying visions of possible futures, whereas his previous film was dominated by super-kinetic context-supplying rewinds. It all comes together, thanks in large measure to Sir Anthony. Recommended without reservation for fans of serial killer thrillers, Solace opens this Friday (12/16) in New York, at the Cinema Village (but screening times are limited).