You ask me, no one gets to escape their pain.

What happens to people after they kill someone?  That’s the premise to a very good movie called Boy A (2007). In that movie, the young murder comes out of prison as a reformed character, with a parole officer who believes in him, trying to make a new life for himself.  Tenderness (2009) is a very different story.

Laurie Cranston (Sophie Traub) lives a sad existence.  She’s a creep magnet.  Or rather, her mother is a creep magnet and they creep on Laurie.  Eric Poole (Jon Foster) killed his parents some time ago but because he was tried as a juvenile, he comes out of prison at 18.  Lt. Cristofuoro (Russell Crowe) is a semi-retired policeman who was on Eric’s case and thinks that Eric is a psychopath that is certain to kill again.  Laurie has followed Eric’s case for a long time and, when he’s released, tracks him down and tries to start a relationship with him.

It’s more typical, lately anyway, to see a thriller of this sort express a very ambiguous story about humans and preconceptions and blah blah blah, but this movie does not really operate with those elements.  That’s not to say it is simple-minded or poor in any respect, but rather decides not to contort the story into something more complicated than is a natural fit.  Throughout the movie, I’m trying to figure out what makes these characters tick and disabusing myself of my expectation for the double-fake.  It calls into question the idea that this is a thriller rather than a tense drama.

The performances are uniformly strong, especially Russell Crowe, who is back–can I say “back” for a three year old movie?–to playing a sensitive fellow.  They all benefit from a strong, understated story, based on book by Robert Cormier, and well adapted by Emil Stern.  The characters are very interesting individuals.  There are echos of Dexter (2006-), which I really like, so I can imagine some may be disturbed with the idea of a murderer.

The direction from John Polson is solid work.  Thinking back on the story, there aren’t a lot of plot points, but I was still interested–and I watched this at 2am.  That says a lot about the quality of the movie.  I’d describe the direction as spare and detached.  That’s appropriate for all the emotional turmoil going on.

This is a good, thoughtful movie.  It balances the stories of three deeply damaged people.  How is a movie like this going to end?  For a character-driven movie, an ending can make or break how you feel about it.  Really, any movie is going to be that way with comedies as a possible exception.  You don’t have to worry about that for Tenderness.  The ending is very satisfying.

At $7, it’s worth buying because you’ll want to see it twice.

The award for Worst Poster has a new candidate in my sweepstakes.  Russell Crowe’s picture is fine and says something about the movie, but the prison watch tower and the other two character photos aren’t very useful.

About Prof. Ratigan

A semi-lawyer and amateur enthusiast.
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