THE STORY – When his beautiful, mysterious neighbor disappears without a trace, Sam tries to find the parties responsible, unraveling a string of strange crimes, unsolved murders and bizarre coincidences in his East Los Angeles neighborhood.
THE CAST – Andrew Garfield & Riley Keough
THE TEAM – David Robert Mitchell (Director/Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 139 Minutes
By Josh Parham
Whenever a film is delayed from its initial release, it’s always something that makes one sit up a bit and pay attention. Obviously, there is nothing inherently wrong with these kinds of decisions that get made far more frequently than we probably realize, but whenever it happens multiple times, it can be an indication of some concern. Having premiered at Cannes almost a full year ago and suffering two different delays, many have wondered if that was a bad omen for the film or just an indication of normal marketing strategizing. Having seen the final product, I can relate sympathizing with the idea of not knowing quite what to do with a film that doesn’t know quite what to do with itself.
The film centers on Sam (Andrew Garfield), an aimless young man who carries little money and even fewer life ambitions. His life receives a jolt when he crosses paths with his neighbor Sarah (Riley Keough). Their interaction is brief, but she bewitches Sam with her charm. So much so that when he goes to see her again, he is totally dumbfounded to see her apartment emptied with no trace as to where she has gone. Due to Sam’s affinity for solving mysteries and uncovering conspiracy theories, he takes it upon himself to discover the clues that will hold the answer to her sudden vanishing, as well as finding the bigger mechanisms that are lurking within the shadows.
David Robert Mitchell previously showed in “It Follows” that he was a filmmaker that knew how to carefully calibrate an intriguing atmosphere with interesting character work, even if the material could be perceived as a bit obvious with its metaphors. Here, Mitchell goes in the complete opposite direction by offering a tale clouded in opaque destinations. This would seem like a compelling method if the inciting element was based on something more engaging than a man’s obsession with a woman he barely knows. There is a feeling throughout the film that Mitchell understands the trope, but much of the film never feels like it truly breaks free from the “male gaze-ness” of it all and encompasses the film in a somewhat distasteful overlay.
Most of the film has us wandering through this meandering mystery, getting introduced to eccentric characters, vaguely discussed conspiracies and subliminal clues that are peppered through the many locations. However, it is difficult to become enraptured in this story when so many elements have such little momentum. The pacing of the film is nearly intolerable, causing long stretches to feel quite interminable. Mysteries do not need total clarity, but they require a foundation on which to progress, and every time this film was making another discovery of a clue, it just had the effect of fighting against quicksand. What’s even more frustrating is how the film relishes in this method of storytelling, and one too many times the thread of the narrative is lost. One may argue that is somewhat the point, but for me, it was an agonizing process.
However, there are still ideas in the film that are somewhat interesting. While the film does struggle to truly make Sam’s obsessions anywhere relatable, there is often a theme of self-reflection on these sorts of actions. The film does find the time to comment on the flawed nature in how men perceive women, and while its observations are not incredibly profound nor greatly impactful, it is an element the film indulges in. There are also reductive explorations into Hollywood vanity, but by far the best scene of the film features two characters discussing the recycled nature of pop culture and its shallow representation through generations. It speaks to the strengths of what the film is trying to do, but it is a moment surrounded by others that are not as engaging.
Garfield is a gifted performer, and I’ve been a big fan of his in nearly all the projects he’s been attached too. His boundless charisma and energy help to navigate through this dense mystery, and he has an exuberant amount of charm to burn. It’s not a performance I find lives up to his best work, but it is one that shows how he can be an engaging screen presence that is entertaining to watch. Most of the supporting cast never make that much of an impact, and that is especially felt from Keough. It’s understandable why her screen time is limited, but the part also does not make use of her talents. Same goes to Topher Grace playing one of Sam’s hipster friends, who is also not given enough to shine.
Truthfully, the only performance I would single out as being anything special is that of Jeffrey Bobb, who plays a shadowy songwriter in that aforementioned best scene in the film. He brings such a playful and ominous energy to the scene that delivers the jolt desperately needed to the film’s lethargic pace. He more than anyone in the cast finds a way to work with the clunky dialogue and creates a scene, with Garfield as well, that is quite memorable and interesting. His time is brief, as many of the supporting players, but he makes the most with his limited time more than any other.
There’s a lot on the surface to the film that reminds one of previous films that track in similar territory. There are films that take a stab at the classic noir mysteries while also infusing them with wacky tones. However, where this one fails is in its quest to make any element of its story engaging, which leads to an overly long film with very few interesting ideas to discuss. The actors do their best to skate by on their own charisma, but they are mostly left stranded by a story that loses the forest for the trees. I still say every person involved in this film is a real talent, but it all feels wasted in a project that never comes across as clever, witty or profound as it often thinks it is.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – Andrew Garfield’s charming performance. A few scenes with an interesting thematic weight behind it.
THE BAD – Brutal pacing, an uninteresting mystery plot and a lacking supporting cast