Starring veteran talent like Josh Charles (TV’s “The Good Wife”), Julia Stiles (THE BOURNE IDENTITY), Tracie Thomas (DEATHPROOF) and rising actor Avan Jogia (TUT), comes the latest film from director Bette Gordon since 2009’s drama HANDSOME HARRY entitled THE DROWNING. Based on the novel by Pat Barker and written for the screen by Stephen Molton and Frank Pugliese, Gordon orchestrates a growing tension filled expression that slowly wraps and tightens around your heart, soul and insecurities.
THE DROWNING does not reinvent the wheel but gives it a jagged spin. The story focuses on a married couple, Tom (Charles) and Lauren (Stiles), who are happy together but lead separate and much different professional lives. Both are supportive of each other as Tom is a writer and criminal psychiatrist while Lauren is a rising artist on the verge of the next level. During a walk along the waterfront after some intimate time alone, they see a man jumping into the water. Assuming that he is attempting suicide, Tom jumps in and saves him. As Tom confronts the man at the hospital, he is taken back when he learns that it is a former patient, Danny Miller (Jorgia) that his diagnosis sent to jail. Reconnecting and making his peace with Danny now that he is all grown up, Tom is asked by Detective Angela (Thoms) to take Danny back on as a patient now that he has been released from prison for an unspeakable crime. This must also be kept secret from Lauren.
As Danny works his way back into Tom’s world, both personally and professionally, Danny is slowly building seeds of doubt in Tom’s mind pertaining to his marriage, profession, relationship with Danny and his past. With Danny getting closer to Lauren, Tom’s jealousy consumes his life as obsession is replacing his attention, support and love for Lauren on every level. As Tom falls down the rabbit hole, Danny plays his game of vengeance and manipulation that consumes Tom – perhaps to the point of no return.
THE DROWNING offers something for everyone. While there are some plot holes throughout, the story cultivates a sense of realism between many marriages of more differences than similarities that may take each person in a different direction. With strong casting overall, this is especially embodied by the powerful performances from the main cast. Having amassed such a respected body of work for decades now, Charles is captivating and fragile as Tom. The struggle he embodies with keeping the secret from his wife, the guilt that he lays on his shoulders with Danny and the way he works through the seeds of doubt and jealousy have such a realistic feel that anyone who has dealt with this kind of relationship angst will be immersed in the character. Stiles is so empowering, passionate and sexy as Lauren. Her performance shows the dynamic levels of her talent and her ability to understand a character as a wife, artist and successful woman. Jogia performance as Danny is the ultimate gentleman. Sleazy, clever, entrancing, manipulative and deliciously executed. All three have such good chemistry on screen handling the range of emotions without missing a beat.
The cinematography by Radium Cheung on THE DROWNING shows such a range and development. The framing throughout the film finds ways to capture the moment, emotion and action as needed but very rarely losing a balance. With the blocking, range of lighting, use of color to accent mood and within the frame movement, it has a feeling like a stage play where the characters carry the struggle, emotion and tension throughout. Every shot matters in this film. From a simple cafe conversation to seduction on a city street to a face to face meeting revelation within a hospital room, each shot has that power and performance. The locations and backdrops are nothing overwhelming as they serve they’re purpose as canvas for those involved to create on.
Two of the biggest strengths of this film are the dialogue and the score. The dialogue is potent as we sit back and watch masters deliver the range of verbal emotion from painful truth to pillow talk to distant chatter to venom laced pain. I look forward to reading the novel and seeing how closely the adaption is especially with the struggle and the adaptation of the dialogue. The score by Anton Sanko is sultry and a moody mistress with selections of fitting instrumental pulse highlighted by very diverse visual jazz that sets the mood and tone for each scene.
One thing in which Gordon, the cast, and the writers truly understand is the aspects of a relationship. Letting the one you love slip away. Dealing with the illusion and infection of doubt and the chaos it causes on different levels. For someone who has been there and connected myself with the character of Tom, the struggle and angst is handled with respect, honesty, and the un-phasing of dark truth. It is also masterfully created from the transitional space that grows between Tom and Lauren to the challenge of intimacy to the changing dialogue to physical space and blocking that shows them growing farther apart. We see both these characters go through the pain and challenge of keeping a marriage alive with such evil biting at them.
Yes, this is a film on redemption, transformation and saving a damned soul from their past choices. However, this captured my attention and made this more than just another standard dramatic thriller about possible evil and obsession with a twist at the end. It is a study on the dark side of life for many and being drowned in something that we thought we could handle. The film offers a lot of layers, a lot of tension, and a lot of emotion power.
THE DROWNING will be available on iTunes June 1st.