Stars: Andie MacDowell and Cary Elwes
The central character is Ethan Belfrage, a New York photojournalist played by Cary Elwes, who for some reason remains one of those faces I never seem to remember, however many films I see him in. I don't just know him from The Princess Bride, I saw him as recently as The Alphabet Killers in 2008, but somehow I still see him for the first time every time. Here he's in for a rough experience, not that he's been having it too great thus far. He's separated and shares custody of his daughter. He's ten weeks into an attempt to quit smoking but he's still on nicotine patches. He's also being pressured to leave his apartment by Seth Rosen, his landlord, who wants to redevelop the entire place, and he assumes that the pressure that starts being brought to bear is at Rosen's instigation. People attempt to knock his door down in the middle of the night. Others look threatening at the dog walking park. Eventually he finds two men hiding in his apartment.
And here things get nasty, mostly courtesy of Frank Whaley who plays an emotionless sociopath called Aaron. He's one of the two men, the elder of the two, the one with an SS tattoo on his neck and a reluctance to even touch the lesser races, even if it's to get his change from a store clerk. Whaley has something of a Gary Oldman vibe, but without any of the overt flair. The only emotion he shows for the longest time is a mild impatience. The other man is Jake, far younger and far less dedicated to nihilistic violence but still with the determination to do whatever it takes to get a job done. The catch is that Ethan has no idea what they want, as they proceed to beat him up, kill his dog and trash the place while playing Amazing Grace on his piano. They leave him chained inside a fridge with his hands tied together with duct tape; and he escapes only to find a noose strung up waiting for him and himself soon on tiptoes inside that noose.
There are layers here, far beyond a basic revenge story. After all, if he did it, they already have him exactly where they want him; but if he didn't do it, there has to be something else going on. There are a few twists, which are revealed subtly at the appropriate points in time, changing our expectations of the story to a large degree. This subtlety is one of the great successes here, the brutality being rather clinical and the gore surprisingly minimised. Sure, Aaron slices open one of Ethan's eyelids while calmly asking Jake to bring him a caffeine free ice latte, but it doesn't feel remotely like a deleted scene from Reservoir Dogs. This story is all about characters and their motivations, rather than special effects. There's much that could be debated even about the least of the characters, like the pair of cops who visit Ethan or the young lady who watches his daughter be forced back into his building in something that might be kidnapping or might not.
There's a hint in the credits through a possible origin to Ethan's surname, but that may be taking subtlety to an extreme. Another oddity in the credits is that Nicole Ansari, who co-produced and took the role of Ethan's wife Kate, is married in real life to Brian Cox, who in the picture plays the man Ethan is accused of murdering. Presumably that's how they landed him for the movie: Cox is truly one of the most underrated actors working today, being the best screen Hannibal Lecktor merely one of his achievements. He's good here but he has little screen time and is not the focal point; others have more intense roles to play. Elwes is excellent as the most complex character, MacDowell decent as the one with the most inherent irony to flesh out. Matt Dallas is capable as Jake, though he's outshone by those around him, especially Frank Whaley, who plays Aaron with surprising realism instead of stylistic flair, befitting a solid character based meditation on revenge.