Movie Review: ‘The Drowning’

Review by Jacquelin Hipes

The Drowning opens with its eponymous act, as Tom Seymour (Josh Charles, The Good Wife) and his wife Lauren (Julia Stiles, The Bourne Identity) rescue a young man from an apparent suicide attempt. A mix-up at the scene leaves each man with the other’s jacket. Arriving at the hospital to make an exchange, Tom discovers that he actually knows the victim quite well. You see, Tom is a psychiatrist, and several years ago his expert testimony helped convict an 11 year-old boy named Danny Miller of murdering an elderly woman. It was the now-grown Danny (Avan Jogia, Tut) that he pulled from the water, recently released from prison and continuing to insist on his innocence. Despite his protestations, Tom finds himself dragged back into the case…and Danny’s life.

Unfortunately this intriguing set-up billed as an “erotic thriller” isn’t very thrilling, nor does it contain an ounce of eroticism. The fault lies almost exclusively with a lackluster script that chases after every trope of the film noir genre it clearly wishes to mimic. Cracks start to show early on, Tom recognizing Danny almost immediately after the boy declares, “It’s me.” No further hints or allusions, not even an appropriately dramatic pause as he racks his brain. Someone who was a complete stranger during the intimacy of CPR is made recognizable from several feet away with those two magic words.

The inanity only compounds itself as the story plods forward. Dialogue is exchanged with minor characters who contribute to neither the plot nor the development of the main players. (An interlude between Tom and his mother’s gardener early on may remind some viewers of Johnny greeting a dog in the modern cinema classic, The Room.) Even conversations of importance are riddled with unfinished sentences and thoughts, the speakers cutting themselves off only because they know it isn’t late enough in the movie for our protagonist to learn everything quite yet. One gets the distinctly irritating sense that if only these people would share with one another details they’ve kept secret- for no compelling reason- much of this angst could be avoided.

Considering the severe handicaps imposed on them by the script, the three leads acquit themselves passably well. Director Bette Gordon doubles down on the noirish inspiration with a corny soundtrack that perhaps aspired to a brooding atmosphere. And Tom even listens to jazz! Musical cues and dramatic looks eliminate the sinister ambiguity that drives other, successful, psychological thrillers and leave no doubt as to whether Tom is justifiably unnerved or merely paranoid.

A description of the novel by Pat Barker which The Drowning adapts suggests an exploration of childhood violence and redemption. All nuance of that fascinating topic is left behind here, abandoned in favor of a lazy homage that draws more unintentional laughter than gasps of shock.

THE DROWNING Opens Theatrically in New York at IFC Center on May 10th with a national rollout to follow.

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