Moving to a new place can be a lot. Moving to a whole new country is a whole other story. You have no friends, no family, and (if you’re American), a lack of familiarity with the culture and language. This forces you into a place of isolation and vulnerability. That’s why the first person you connect with abroad is like finding an oasis in a desert. But what if that oasis was just a mirage? Something that lured you into a false sense of security? This is the scenario that gets addressed in Stephan Rick’s THE GOOD NEIGHBOR.
Journalist David (Luke Kleintank) has newly arrived in Latvia from the United States. He’s left behind everything he knows to start fresh. He has a new job and temporary lodgings thanks to his boss (Bruce Davison). But isolated in his countryside home, he tries to find ways to get out. After struggling to get his boss’s backup car running, David goes over to see if his neighbor will help him out. Robert (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), his neighbor, is more than happy to help. They click instantly.
Their relationship hits a major snag one fateful night. David makes the foolish decision to drive while tipsy, and accidentally hits a woman on a bike. Ironically, it’s the same woman he met at a bar he was visiting with Robert. David and Robert react in different ways. David is overwhelmed with guilt. Robert is cold. Clinical. He directs David to flee the scene of the crime and they do. From this point on, the audience watches as the noose starts to tighten around the both of them, and we see the lengths Robert will take to keep their secret buried.
THE GOOD NEIGHBOR features familiar story beats. For the most part, this makes it pretty easy to predict where things might go. That’s the catch-22 of a story set in this particular part of the thriller genre. With that said, there’s just enough conveyed by Rhys Meyers’s performance and Stephan Rick’s direction to keep the audience wondering what will happen next. That’s just enough needed to keep the film from feeling stale.
That’s not to say Rhys Meyers’s performance is perfect here. There are moments where his line delivery is a bit over the top. It accidentally elevates Robert into more cartoonish villain territory. Where Rhys Meyers succeeds the most is his character’s quiet moments. Much is conveyed here, and the gay subtext that appears to be present between Robert and David is easier picked up in these moments.
Luke Kleintank’s David is painted with a broad brush. Even when making morally compromising decisions (sleeping with the murdered woman’s sister for one), there’s nothing conveyed in the performance that makes it read beyond the surface level. David is a guy trying to figure out a shitty situation that keeps getting worse and worse, but Kleintank plays it in a way that doesn’t resonate.
A shoutout should be given to cinematographer Stefan Ciupek. Ciupek utilizes angles and close-up shots to help with the tension build that THE GOOD NEIGHBOR needs. On top of that, his camera work in capturing what viewers get to see of Latvia is nothing short of stunning. Some of those specific scenic shots could be used for a tourism ad because they are beautiful. That is if you disregard things like bodies piling up and whatnot.
Overall, THE GOOD NEIGHBOR is okay. It’s not reinventing the wheel, but still enjoyable. Given that the film is a remake of the director’s original film that came out over a decade ago, the predictability of plot may be a result of time passing and familiarity with the genre. What keeps investment going is predominantly Jonathan Rhys Meyers’s performance. Both Robert and David on paper are intriguing characters, but Rhys Meyers succeeds in adding substance behind Robert that makes us wonder what he will do next. And really, that’s all the bait needed to lure us in.
Screen Media will release THE GOOD NEIGHBOR in theaters and on-demand on June 17, 2022.
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