Studio: Relativity Media
Director: Afonso Poyart
Writer: Sean Bailey, Ted Griffin
Producer: Beau Flynn, Thomas Augsberger, Tripp Vinson, Matthias Emcke, Claudia Bluemhuber
Stars: Anthony Hopkins, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Abbie Cornish, Colin Farrell, Matt Gerald, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Marley Shelton, Kenny Johnson, Xander Berkeley, Sharon Lawrence, Josh Close, Janine Turner
A psychic FBI investigator comes out of retirement to track a serial killer with the power to see the future.
Somewhere inside “Solace” swirls the DNA of an intriguing serial killer chiller. To understand how a clever hook, a psychic detective pulled out of retirement to hunt a clairvoyant serial killer, and a top-tier cast, Anthony Hopkins and Colin Farrell star, ends up instead as merely mediocre calls for a little look into the 13-year saga of “Solace” going from spec script to “Se7en” sequel to dust collector to DVD dump virtually orphaned in North America.
Fresh off the success of updating “Ocean’s Eleven” for Steven Soderbergh’s 2001 remake, screenwriter Ted Griffin sold a spec script in 2002 that New Line Cinema fitted for following up “Seven.” Commenting around the 10-year anniversary of his 1995 film, “Seven” director David Fincher reportedly said of the proposed sequel script, “it didn’t make a lot of sense to me. They wanted Morgan (Freeman) to have become clairvoyant in some way and that was the way he was now solving serial-killer cases! And I was like, ‘Well, that’s handy!’ (source: Movie Hole).” Back to the rewrite pile went “Solace” for additional input from James Vanderbilt and Peter Morgan before settling on a script officially credited to Sean Bailey and original scribe Griffin.
Now in the hands of Warner Brothers, “Solace” finally went in front of a camera and production stills began appearing online during the summer of 2013. The film completed, Warner Brothers then tucked it away in a closet. Reasons why a studio would sit on a film for two years are usually apparent, though the unfortunate fate of “Solace” may be mixed up in more than mere quality concerns. While the movie made its way to the UK and other countries in late 2015, retitled “Premonitions” in some territories, yet another limbo was entered when distributor Relativity Media filed for Chapter 11, leaving “Solace” without a clear U.S. release plan aside from a vague “2016.”
Bringing a movie to market in this manner is akin to having Ray Bolger’s Scarecrow present a Fabergé egg to the tsar. Confidence that the heirloom will arrive undamaged is unlikely to be instilled when witnessing such a shoulder-shrugging parade of Marx Brothers movement.
Yet given the talent involved in the tinkering, as acknowledged screenwriters had hands in “Zodiac,” “Amazing Spider-Man,” “Frost/Nixon,” and “The Shield,” it’s no wonder that “Solace” is rife with inventive ideas and creative concepts. By that same token of how it clumsily chugged from conception to completion, it is also no wonder that the final film ends up a pedestrian potboiler neutered perhaps by too many cooks changing directions in the kitchen.
“Solace” starts salting itself with blandness straight away. The first frame is a dictionary definition, that frequently inessential way to open a movie on a yawn. White text on a black screen says that solace in noun form is “consolation in a time of sorrow, distress or sadness.” As a verb, solace is “to give alleviation, comfort, relief.” Whether or not the word is somehow assumed foreign to us, in no way does either meaning inspire one to stroke a chin, much less set up excitement for a suspense thriller.
It doesn’t get any less beige. “Solace” marks the English-language debut of Brazilian director Afonso Poyart, who previously helmed one short and one feature in Portuguese. Producers perhaps misread his fit for this project or Poyart simply submerges his style until any and all fireworks and flair are visibly extinguished.
Much of the filmmaking is mismatched or misguided. Hopkins’ precog flashes are nonsensical montages featuring ice cream cones falling in slow motion and wolves baring fangs without context. They are the kind of overly-cinematic insertions meant to be arty and ominous, yet are confusing and confused about their importance. A baby bottle shatters on pavement. A blurry Farrell waves his hands like Doug Henning. When these “clues” are at last identified in the climax, their unnecessary convolution comes off as even more comically confounded.
Quiet kitchen conversations are shot with a handheld camera apparently ready to fall from the operator’s shoulder in an unpredictable direction. Dialogue scenes are unnecessarily hyperactive like this, yet a climactic car chase is shot so stereotypically as to be sterile of any energy. It’s as though Poyart is going through assumptive motions of textbook action-thriller creation without considering a signature making sense for a distinguished tone.
“Solace” is like watching a checkers game played with chess pieces. To be less metaphorical about it, “Solace” is evidence of what happens when a roster stuffed top to bottom by the incomparable casting expertise of Deborah Aquila and Tricia Wood is handcuffed to middling material with all avenues to anywhere interesting cut off by colorless direction.
It’s a deep bench of supporting star power, all of it underused. Venerable actors including Kenny Johnson, Xander Berkeley, Sharon Lawrence, and Janine Turner all appear even though not one of them has more than a single scene. Hopkins is game to make a go of it, as are the others top billed, but seems pressed for ideas on how to punch up his presence when everything within sight is flavored vanilla. You get the clear sense that everyone isn’t so much caught up in a “bad” movie as they are one underneath their abilities.
That sentiment summarizes “Solace.” Initial reaction upon hearing of a thriller where Anthony Hopkins is matched against Colin Farrell in a high stakes game of psychic detective versus psychic killer is unquestioned enthusiasm. Learn of its progression from forgotten vault item to an overseas home video premiere and you wonder, “how does that happen?” See the final product and you discover the answer, “oh, that’s how.”
As a slightly supernatural extended episode of “Criminal Minds” featuring guest stars a network could never nab, “Solace” might make for must-see TV. As a multimillion-dollar feature intended for big screen entertainment, “Solace” is serviceably average.
Review Score: 50