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.