Casey Affleck stars as a psychiatrist protecting his family from the unhinged brother of a patient in the new thriller “Every Breath You Take”. It’s directed by Vaughn Stein who did last year’s relatively fun but wacky “Inheritance”. This time Stein doesn’t have that kind of outlandish plot angle to play around with. Instead he’s handed an idea that plays like a watered down “Cape Fear” laced with a Lifetime Original. You know, a ticked-off charmer with a grudge seeks revenge by secretly seducing a man’s wife and daughter. That’s this story in a nutshell.
Affleck plays Dr. Phillip Clark, the quintessential movie shrink. He has all the markings – a bookish look, a soft tone, and a notebook full of handwritten doctor scribble. Phillip has a pretty good gig in upstate Washington, working out of his stylishly modernist home while teaching a few university classes on the side. But personally things aren’t so sunny. A devastating family trauma has left Phillip, his wife Grace (Michelle Monaghan), and his daughter Lucy (India Eisley) splintered and individually coping with the tragedy on their own. It’s clearly not going well. Phillip submerges himself in his work, a detached Grace furiously swims laps in their pool as her lone release, and Lucy has been kicked out of boarding school for doing a line of cocaine in the science lab.
As a therapist you would think Phillip would recognize the harm it’s having on his family. But his own emotional repression keeps him focused everywhere but inward. Then we get to sit in on one of his sessions with a young woman named Daphne (Emily Alyn Lind). She has a history of mental illness and suicide attempts but she seems better than she’s been in years thanks to some unorthodox experimental treatment. But then Phillip gets the chilling news that Daphne has taken her own life.
Enter the hunky Sam Claflin who plays Daphne’s grieving brother James. He shows up at Phillip’s house to return a book Daphne borrowed and is invited to stay for dinner by a sympathetic Grace. At the table James wins over Grace with his humble charm while stealthily wooing a clearly smitten Lucy with subtle looks and flirty grins. On the way out to his car he tells Phillip “You’re a lucky man. Family is all there is, and you have a great one.” It doesn’t take a flashing neon sign for us to realize the creepy James is up to no good.
Phillip suspects something too but not before James has found emotional cracks to slither into. And driving a wedge between family members proves to be a lot easier when there’s already no communication between them. So the bulk of the story follows James as he tries to shatter a family one member at a time while Phillip comes to grips with his past in order to save his present and future. We’re treated to several scenes of palpable tension and genuine discomfort. At the same time it’s hampered by characters making some really bad decisions – the kind that will have you slapping your forehead and yelling at your screen.
Claflin makes a dandy psycho despite having a character who is woefully underwritten. The movie uses his disarming good looks and genteel manner to make him believably deceptive. On the other hand he never really gets to explore the personal anguish or rage that supposedly drives his character’s actions towards Phillip and his family. All we get is a muttered quote he takes from his sister, “The deepest hurt I’ve ever felt was when I tried to do good and was shamed for it.” Its repeated several times and I’m still not sure what it means within the context of the movie.
The movie attempts to rectify this and other issues in the final act, but the rushed out-of-left-field ending and inevitable ‘big twist’ hurts more than helps. The performances are solid, the film musters a little tension, and the Pacific Northwest (shot in Vancouver) makes for a good setting and is nicely captured through Stein’s lens. But as a whole the story is more frustrating than satisfying. It’s a psychological thriller that leaves most of the psychology buried and unexplored. So we’re left with undercooked characters, thinly sketched motivations and a story begging for more attention and detail. “Every Breath You Take” opens today (April 2nd) in select theaters and on VOD.
VERDICT – 2 STARS