Film Review: Inhale

Well-done, exciting and intelligent, that rare thriller with a mind and purpose.

“What's been happening?” asks Diane Stanton (Diane Kruger) on the phone of her lawyer husband, Paul Stanton (Dermot Mulroney), who has gone to Mexico to score a lung for his sick daughter. “Well, what hasn’t happened?” you want to scream at her.

At this point, Paul, who is already in local hot water for defending a pedophile, has been led through the direst parts of dire, human-organ-dealing Juarez, robbed, tied up by a transvestite, beaten to a pulp by thugs, all while uncovering shady dealings between local doctors and his friend, gubernatorial candidate James Harrison (Sam Shepard), back home in Santa Fe. And still no lung in sight.

Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur hypes his film with a barrage of intricate flashbacks and brutal action, making for a hectically compelling ride. Although one might wish that he’d chosen a cleaner, more straightforward way to tell his story (why must audiences work so hard these days wading through needless expositional obfuscation?), there's no denying its gripping hold, both in terms of its powerful subject involving the trafficking of organs as well as Paul's unceasing and ever-increasing moral dilemma, which places him squarely in the tradition of the upright souls Gary Cooper and Henry Fonda used to play. It’s an effective mix of pulp and seriousness, and offers a bracing viewer experience, something rare in movie houses these days.

Its major drawback, unfortunately, is Mulroney, who, although hard-working and convincing in the role, lacks that indefinable star quality which could have added an even more electrifyingly empathic jolt to the film. You suffer with him through his endless travails, but his eternal juvenileness keeps him from encroaching into your consciousness. Since Inglourious Basterds, Kruger has developed into a very strong screen presence and, with a fraction of Mulroney's screen time, manages to make a far more vivid impression.

The unusually strong supporting cast— Shepard, David Selby as another Santa Fe bigwig, Rosanna Arquette as a sympathetic doctor, Jordi Molla as a Juarez police chief and, especially, Vincent Perez as an enigmatic medico—adds texture.