For James Franco’s Tomas Eldan, the equable writer and protagonist in Wim Wender’s stilted melodrama Every Thing Will Be Fine, it takes over a decade for him to come to terms with the harrowing incident that saw him run over and kill a small child in the opening act. Problem is, for the venerable Palme d’Or winning filmmaker, is that we feel every single minute of it.

In the years that follow the accident, Tomas struggles to overcome the tragedy, attempting suicide and breaking up with his long-term partner Sara (Rachel McAdams). From a professional level, however, the self-effacing writer gains success, with the event impacting on his career and provoking his finest material. But it comes at a price, and despite falling in love again with Ann (Marie-Josée Croze) and having her move in with her young daughter Mina (Julia Sarah Stone), his affiliation with the mother of the victim Kate (Charlotte Gainsbourg) never tires, as both she and her other, surviving son Christopher (Robert Naylor) remain a constant presence – and painful reminder – in his life.

Tomas’ detached, passive outlook in life is a deliberate narrative device from Wenders and screenwriter Bjørn Olaf Johannessen, even leading towards arguments with Ann, who is persistently frustrated by his lack of emotional reaction when devastation occurs. However it makes for a somewhat cold picture that is a challenge to engage with. It’s not that we’re after a melodramatic, sentimental turn from Franco, but drama is certainly lacking from this tepid piece of cinema. There is an argument to be had that Franco bas been miscast in this instance, as despite his talent – which undoubtedly exists – this role requires a certain degree of subtlety and nuance that he’s unable to achieve.

This laborious film ploughs along at a slow pace, which is particularly underwhelming given the credentials of the man in the director’s chair. Having spent the best past of the last decade making documentaries – one of which, The Salt of the Earth, is nominated for an Oscar this year – his return to fiction has been an discouraging one. The Alexandre Desplat score and aesthetically gratifying cinematography by Benôit Debie may point to a film with grand ideas – but are wasted when used in a feature so disengaging, featuring a myriad of nondescript and one-dimensional characters.

Not to mention the fact that Wenders’ decision to implement 3D technology in a narrative feature is wildly superfluous, and though you’re never distracted or turned off by it, nor are you inspired, as it’s barely noticeable – which is exactly why it can be deemed so completely unnecessary. Sadly it’s indicative of a picture that will leave you feeling subdued, and tremendously unperturbed at everything you’ve just witnessed. Perhaps a retreat back to documentary making is not so bad an idea for Wenders, as his best years in the narrative feature seem well and truly behind him.