Film Review: Solace

The intriguing but uninspired 'Solace' can’t escape the clutches of ’90s serial-killer thriller déjà vu.
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Solace, the new-ish serial-killer thriller shot in 2013 by Brazilian director Afonso Poyart (Two Rabbits), arrives exuding enthusiasm but is still way off-kilter and too late to the party. It’s been a while since the box-office tsunami of dark, bloody crime thrillers set loose largely by the critical and popular success of The Silence of the Lambs and Se7en. This particular thriller stirs echoes of those aforementioned hits and their variations (Copycat, Saw), while attempting a fresh spin on the proven formula of the brash young investigator teamed with a complicated virtuoso to catch a craven killer. Poyart’s film, choppily edited and not that attractively lensed much of the time, adds psychic visions to the mix and brings back an honored stalwart of the genre, Hannibal Lecter himself, Sir Anthony Hopkins.

Set in some gray, rain-soaked city that’s being terrorized by a murderous fiend preying on men, women and children, the film stars Jeffrey Dean Morgan as FBI special agent Joe Merriwether, on the trail of this unpredictable monster alongside his younger partner, special agent Katherine Cowles (Abbie Cornish). No mere agent, Dr. Katherine Cowles is a respected psychopathologist upon whom Merriwether relies to understand why such monsters do what they do. But what Merriwether and his overmatched squad need most urgently to understand is when and where the killer will strike next. So he calls on his dear friend, Dr. John Clancy (Hopkins), an ex-forensic analyst who retreated from the world after tragically losing his daughter to cancer, and who just happens to be psychic. Or, as wily Clancy puts it, he wields a “super-duper, deluxe edition of intuition.”

Co-written by veteran producer Sean Bailey (Tron: Legacy, Gone Baby Gone) and Ted Griffin (writer/creator of the series “Terriers” and the sublimely grisly thriller Ravenous), the Solace screenplay purportedly was once developed as a sequel to Se7en. Yes, that would be Ei8ht, and this is no Se7en. Bailey and Griffin’s iteration of the hunt for a psycho with a maniacal purpose leaves out the mounting dread and resolve that propels really effective thrillers of the sub-genre to the finish line. Even more damaging, the script provides scant evidence of whatever well-honed skills either Merriwether or Cowles might deploy in this manhunt, or generally in their careers as law-enforcement professionals. Presented as a crack profiler possessed of trusted, if not time-tested, abilities, Cowles for some reason has never so much as Googled her current partner’s beloved mentor, a famous psychic ex-forensic analyst. She’s here as an onscreen generator of backstory: “How did she die?” “What happened to his wife?” It’s a disappointing spot for Cornish, who holds the screen with a tightly coiled intensity that finds little outlet beyond Cowles’ one-note scowl.

Instead of planting clues that trigger galvanizing epiphanies, the film consistently spoon-feeds our investigators the facts they need to know. Merriwether, played by Morgan as a laid-back, decent charmer, does have the no-brainer idea to ask his psychic friend for help in finding the stab-happy serial murderer. And Cowles is allowed one incisive query of Dr. Clancy on the matter of how he refers to his unexplainable extrasensory abilities: “What do you call it?” she asks. Put forth with a respectful curiosity,the question cuts to the heart of the movie’s only concerted innovation, its willingness to invest the premise of a psychic crime-solver with the gravitas of heavy emotions. Hopkins smoothly enacts, through Clancy’s wit and his bluntness, a weighty sense of how awful it might be to live burdened with foreknowledge of countless other people’s future pains and struggles.

Unfortunately, those odd, bracing moments of tension are cut through with dippy, contemplative interludes of Clancy, marginalized from the action, in thrall to visions of his past and future. Clancy’s Spartan psychic flashes are among the film’s several missteps, along with the disarmingly casual treatment of child murder, and the risky choice to have the killer simply show up for a mid-movie sit-down to explain his deranged motivations. It doesn’t even help that he’s played by Colin Farrell, a marvelously menacing villain in the 2011 Fright Night remake, who seems lost here, spouting Angel of Death nonsense and leading Hopkins on what must be the least exciting catch-the-killer foot chase this side of a Miss Marple movie.

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