There’s a moment in the early stages of Afonso Poyart’s thriller Solace, where Sir Anthony Hopkins is posed with the question of where he’d like this story to start. “At the beginning”, he wryly mumbles. A traditionalist approach, certainly, but in hindsight, it may have just been better for all of us had he asked to skip right to the end.
Hopkins is playing John Clancy, a retired psychic who is persuaded by FBI agent Joe Merriweather (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) to join forces in an investigation to hunt down an elusive serial killer, who is murdering seemingly innocent people – including a young child – in exactly the same, sinister way – leaving no clues whatsoever as to their identity. With Clancy’s ability to see both into the past and future – not to mention having the accomplished psychologist Katherine Cowles (Abbie Cornish) also on the case, they set off in a desperate attempt to find this killer – before they strike again.
Solace is unsubtle to a point where it’s detrimental to the audience’s enjoyment, such as when they’re doing an autopsy of a deceased, young boy, and they show the doctor cutting his head open and slicing his brain in half. Really? Just say he’s having an autopsy, we know what that entails, we don’t need to see it. Such an approach wouldn’t be an issue if a consistent one, but the severity of this picture is persistently devalued by its inclination for surrealism. We move clumsily between raw, human emotions such as grief, to taking a fantastical route, with Clancy’s supernatural powers. Though appreciating the need for that to exist given it drives the narrative forwards and works as a key plot device – it’s so absurd it detracts from any sense of realism and disallows the chance for the viewer to emotionally invest in this tale.
Poyart is attempting to have his cake and eat it, by being so hauntingly realistic in parts and so distinctly unnatural in others. The two rarely co-exist on screen triumphantly, and it takes a rare, special piece of cinema such as Javier Bardem’s Biutiful to pull it off. Talking of Bardem, though Jeffrey Dean Morgan may bear an uncanny physical resemblance to the Spaniard, it’s fair to say on this outing, any such comparisons end abruptly there.
On a more positive note, it’s always good to see Hopkins with a substantial, leading role – and safe to say he’s the best thing about this underwhelming endeavour. But perhaps that’s because it feels more like a film that would have come out during his prime years, as an old-fashioned, dated thriller that could have come straight out of the early 90s – which isn’t always a compliment. Sadly, the only thing you’ll find solace in within this endeavour, are the closing credits.