★★ / ★★★★
Despite the melodrama that unfolds for the majority of the picture, “Acrimony,” written and directed by Tyler Perry, is almost effective because it is tethered so tightly around Taraji P. Henson’s performance. Henson plays a woman so filled with unconsolable rage that those closest to her are afraid she will hurt those who she feels did her wrong. Told in flashback, beginning when Melinda (Henson) meets Robert (Lyriq Bent) in college (the younger couple played by Ajiona Alexus and Antonio Madison), the material is able to generate a slow but powerful forward momentum only to fall apart during the final thirty minutes.
Dramatic thrillers rest so much on the payoff, the catharsis the audience must feel in their bones or the reward for having the patience to try and understand the perspective of the key characters, even though some of them are not written as sharply as should be so that they come across as living, breathing people rather than mere pawns to be moved in and around the plot. Melinda’s madness is not as interesting as her suffering as a girlfriend and eventual wife who invests everything she has—money, time, energy, emotional and physical support—on her husband’s dream of inventing a battery capable of recharging itself. (Because many of Perry screenplays are notorious for being heavy-handed, this work not being an exception, yes, the battery is a metaphor for the state of the couple’s marriage.)
The first half is strong because we are made to understand why Melinda feels betrayed. I enjoyed that the screenplay shows she is capable of empathy, making huge sacrifices, and having the patience when it is extremely difficult to remain in control of a situation. At the same time, the material is willing to show us her flaws apart from her disturbing anger issues. For instance, she has a habit of taking certain actions or words so personally when there really is no malicious intent. Those who look beyond the anger will be able to recognize a person who feels so much that she ends up latching onto those who make her feel important or valued—even to the point when she is no longer treated as important or valued.
There are some fresh choices in photography. Although Perry employs a darker lighting in order to pummel viewers over the head that what they are seeing is, in fact, a thriller, particularly surprising are instances when the writer-director subjects Henson under particularly harsh lighting to the point where it is unflattering. And I admire Henson for being willing to look so unappealing because the material demands that her character be as ugly or as monstrous as possible at a given time. While some may consider this as a misstep, I applaud it because, unless a movie is supposed to be a contender for major awards toward the end of the year, directors usually do not wish to show their actors in unfavorable frames.
It does not dispel the fact that the last act requires major revisions, perhaps even reshoots. The violence is cartoonish, the slow motions command no effect, and the dialogue sounds as though it were written by a teenager who has seen one too many reality shows and not read enough books (or at least seen a good number of quality movies). During this time, I could not help but feel robbed because I know the filmmakers and actors involved are so much better than the cheesy and ridiculous confrontation on a boat—proven by the solid ninety minutes that just came before.