(director: Paul McGuigan; screenwriters: Brandon Boyce/Gilles Mimouni; cinematographer: Peter Sova; editor: Andrew Hulme; music: Cliff Martinez; cast: Josh Hartnett (Matthew), Diane Kruger (Lisa), Matthew Lillard (Luke), Rose Byrne (Alex), Jessica Paré (Rebecca), Amy Sobol (Ellie); Runtime: 115; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Andre Lamal/Marcus Viscidi/Tom Rosenberg/Gary Lucchesi; MGM; 2004)
“Falls apart because of the trivial narrative.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Paul McGuigan (“The Reckoning”/”Gangster No. 1”) directs this English-version romantic thriller that was adapted by Brandon Boyce from “L’Appartement,” a popular French thriller written and directed by Gilles Mimouni in 1996. The filmmaker asks the viewer to believe that love makes us do the craziest things, and that it can lead one character to be hopelessly obsessive and drive another to be nearly psychopathic. The story is set in the Wicker Park section of Chicago where the hero resides, and its affordable common-man Frank’s Chili Dogs restaurant in the park contrasts with the downtown’s ritzy Bellucci’s restaurant–two places that play a part in establishing the class differences in the story.
Matthew (Josh Hartnett) is a young Chicago resident who worked as a photographer in a Wicker Park camera shop and now has a more substantial job with a downtown advertising agency that is run by the brother of his wealthy fiancée Rebecca (Jessica Paré). On the day Matthew is set to travel for the firm to China to close an important deal, he spots in Bellucci’s the former love of his life, Lisa (Diane Kruger), a dancer who stood him up in Wicker Park when she was supposed to make her decision about moving with him to NYC– where he was offered a better job. This took place two years earlier and Lisa has since mysteriously vanished without contacting him again.
Just the passing sight of Lisa in Bellucci’s makes Matthew go so daffy that he impulsively throws away his beautiful fiancée and career by secretly not taking the flight and instead tries to track down his old flame by a hotel key card and a makeup compact she left in the restaurant phone booth. Through a series of flashbacks confusingly woven into the present events (McGuigan’s inventive use of split-screens failed to adequately clear things up for me), the viewer learns of Matthew’s relationship with Lisa and how he was kept apart from her. There are also a number of all-too convenient plot points that keep this slow-moving wannabe thriller going on more than it had a right to.
The other characters of note include — Luke (Matthew Lillard), Matthew’s sexually frustrated but cheerfully buffoonish shoe-salesman best friend; and Alex (Rose Byrne), Luke’s intense and troubled actress girlfriend.
The film falls apart because of the trivial narrative and that the main actors were miscast. Hartnett’s role called for a James Stewart or Cary Grant type, who would have enough depth to keep us interested in his predicament. This young actor was just not up to the demands of the role and gave a dull performance. It was not possible for me to believe in a Windy City second that such a dullard could sweep a number of women off their feet by just taking one look at him, or that he can be so obsessed with a woman that it’s a matter of life or death in reconciling with her. The film was too lacking in urgency to tell a good sleuth story or flesh out its main characters, while its melancholy love story never was justified by its contrived enigmatic plot.
REVIEWED ON 9/9/2004 GRADE: C-