★★ / ★★★★
Mystery-thriller “Solace,” written by Sean Bailey and Ted Griffin, commands an intriguing premise but the deeper the picture gets into the case involving a series of “mercy-killing” murders, it proves unable to sustain and deliver upon the intrigue it promises. Instead, the film is reduced to a final showdown using guns, an uninspired avenue traversed too often by generic thrillers with not much to say so long as the antagonists meet their doom in the end. The first half has potential but the latter half is so pointless, near worthless, that a part of me was surprised it received the go signal to be made.
Anthony Hopkins is immensely watchable as a former doctor/FBI investigator named by John Clancy who is approached by Special Agent Merriwether (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) with the hope of providing insight on an especially difficult assignment. The murders have been executed so well, no DNA has been found on the crime scene, no witness, not even a footprint or sign of forced entry. The MO is the same: a puncture mark on the back of the head, the sharp weapon used believed to pierce the medulla oblongata—resulting in a quick and painless death. Merriwether is convinced Clancy will be able to help given the old man’s special ability to see into the past and future by simply touching a person or an object of interest.
Hopkins injects elegance into material that would have been unbearably standard without his presence. His way of delivering lines, the manner in which he plays with pauses, the ability to communicate using only his eyes tend to elevate the scenes he is in. He creates a creepy feeling by making his character a bit detached from everyone he encounters. At times, however, his performance is diluted by various images shown quickly on screen—a distracting depiction of what John sees in his mind.
Such an approach is a miscalculation. It doesn’t work in many high-caliber thrillers and it doesn’t work here either. Having such a consummate performer like Hopkins at the helm, why not simply allow the camera to rest on his face and so we are forced to observe the minuscule changes in his facial expressions? Why do we need to see the images the character sees in his mind? The answer is, we don’t. Showing such images is simply a crutch—a technique to spell out nearly everything for the audience. The material treats us like we are neither patient nor intelligent.
The look of the picture is bland in that there is no personality in each of the environment we visit, whether it be a police station, a crime scene, or a murder victim’s home. Notice that even a solid episode of “Criminal Minds” tends to deliver a certain look or feel to it. And that is on television. In other words, the film does not come across cinematic. If this were playing on TV and I just so happened to come across it, after a few seconds I would likely think it was a show doomed for cancellation. There is a lack of an artistic eye here—disappointing because the filmmakers could have taken inspiration from David Fincher’s “Se7en,” for example. In that movie, the unsub has a twisted sense of morality, too.
Directed by Afonso Poyart, “Solace” offers a few clever moments and solidly watchable performances, especially by Hopkins, but the writing lacks focus, a highly analytical nature despite clairvoyance added to the mix, as well as a powerful visceral punch, essential elements to create a memorable and chilling crime-thriller.