As the title might imply Every Breath You Take is a psychological thriller about a stalker. It’s clearly been made in the same aesthetic vein as The Woman in the Window or Gone Girl, all elegant glass houses in affluent, but isolated regions of North America. Doing its job with suitable aplomb but never really pushing the boat out in terms of story and character.
Casey Affleck is very much in Manchester by the Sea, mode as Philip Fanning, a bereaved father and psychiatrist whose already, fragile life rattled by the suicide of his patient. The appearance of Sam Claflin as the patient’s brother adds a twist in the knife as this walking reminder of Philip’s failure begins to ingratiate himself into the family. Seducing his teenage daughter (Lily Krug) and befriending then seducing his wife Grace (Michelle Monaghan). Things escalate at a slow burn and eventually it turns out that the brother is not entirely what he seems (to little surprise). The story barely makes a single misstep in the formula and yet, that might be the thing that kills it. We build up to a gradual escalation but even when the stakes are pushed to the limit it never feels like an increase in intensity.
Part of this might be the sterility of the film’s atmosphere. As mentioned, there’s a cold, middle-class vibe, now common to these sorts of thrillers. Everyone seems to live and work in cleanly designed, modern homes with windows on all sides. Philip’s home in particular seems to be one giant testament to chilly domesticity. The visual shorthand makes it all too easy to see the division between Philip and Grace, not least by her regular night-time swims in their obscenely long pool. However, at a certain point subtlety is appreciated.
This is something the script never seems to get, especially when dealing with Claflin’s John Flagg. This is usually the type of role Claflin excels at; psychologically damaged, insecure men going increasingly unhinged. His dialogue though is so stilted and weighed down with pretension that it’s impossible to engage with him. Yes, we’re supposed to realise something’s off about this awkwardly accented, Byronic Brit, but the inability to make him sound remotely natural constantly breaks the film’s atmosphere.
That is ultimately the major issue behind Every Breath You Take. The clinical atmosphere, the emotionally remote characters, all rob the film of the essential human touch these genre works need. We need to relate to the characters so that invest emotionally in them when things begin to fall apart. This film’s characters feel like they have little worth living for. If they can’t care, then why should we? It’s a central issue that exposes more minor niggles, like obvious errors in the editing. Musical cues that hint at significance we’re unaware of, revelations about events we’ve already seen revealed. As though in the process of painting by the numbers someone got lazy.
As far as these kinds of thrillers go Every Breath You Take is hardly a disaster. It’s a well shot, well performed drama with plenty of tension and excitement. It simply hits a plateau and never rises above it.