This thriller represents the American directorial debut of a Hong Kong
legend, Andrew Lau, who directed Infernal Affairs, the excellent film which
inspired The Departed. It stars two fairly important actors, Richard Gere and
Claire Danes. The budget was $35 million.
And yet it was never released in the USA, although it was filmed two years ago.
That should tell you something. Since you can assume it is not woefully
inept, the proper inference is that the subject matter is so dark and the
narrative style so aloof that no distributor felt it had commercial potential.
It languishes in limbo, released neither theatrically nor on home video in
North America, but seen in various countries across the world.
Richard Gere plays a crusty old caseworker for the Department of Public
Safety, whose job is to monitor the progress of registered sex offenders. This
job is his entire life. He tries to do it as well as can be done and considers
all of his co-workers to be slackers. His obsession with every tiny detail of
his assignment does not go down well with the sex offenders, who find his
treatment of them to be invasive and illegal. If only they knew! When
he's not badgering them officially, he's donning a hood, ambushing them, and attacking them
physically. Even without knowing about the nocturnal attacks, Gere's boss finally
decides that the man is more trouble than he's worth and forces him into retirement.
Claire Danes plays the newest recruit of the department. She will replace Gere
in a month, and the two of them will spend the interim as partners, while
he is getting her acquainted with the caseload. In the course of the training, Gere
becomes aware of the abduction of a local school girl. He thinks that one or
more of his "flock" is responsible. He becomes certain of it when someone
starts taunting him anonymously.
Gere is not a police officer, but the real police have too many cases to
handle to obsess on a single one, so Gere's monomaniacal pursuit becomes the
missing girl's only hope. Danes realizes that Gere is not a normal person, but
she is eventually swept up by his idealism, even while realizing that his
methods are often misguided and even illegal. She resolves to help Gere find
the kidnapped girl, despite her superior's adjurations to the contrary.
I mentioned that the film was dark. That applies to the cinematography as
well as the themes. You'll get the picture most accurately if you think of
SE7EN, although the monsters in this film have neither John Doe's imagination
nor his library card. These are not your tragically troubled, non-violent sex offenders
like Kevin Bacon in The Woodsman. They are the kind who kill their victims
after torturing and maiming them. They are simply dark and ugly, and they
conduct many of their perverted activities in grungy warehouses, deserted
trailer parks, abandoned farms, and other places which you would hope never to
see except through the safety of a screen. It's more like SE7EN meets 8MM
meets Hostel 2, although I, for one, was relieved that most of the truly nasty
activities took place off-camera.
The direction is filled with all sorts of strange choices: speed-ups and
saturation changes and pauses and jump cuts, all of which serve to take
emphasis away from the human drama of the story and to add shift emphasis to
the "thriller" aspects of the narrative. You might expect that the serious themes
covered in this film would require it to be a moral fable or a character study or a serious drama,
but this film is really designed solely to play out as a thriller and it climaxes
with a race against the clock. The characters portrayed by Danes and Gere are not really developed to any great extent, and what we
do know of Gere is
not something we can really admire, so there are no moments of normalcy to
break the mood. It's just an unrelieved journey into the minds of violent sex
offenders, interrupted only by detours into the caseworker's mind, which is
not a much more pleasant place to visit. Unlike many projects with a similar premise,
like SE7EN or The X-Files, there is no witty or intelligent banter or lively
debate between the partners or with the baddies.
Because the film functions primarily as a thriller, it is much more stylish
and aloof than it would be if it concentrated on establishing empathy with the
characters, or the victims. It is not a bad movie, by any means, and it
features yet another excellent Richard Gere performance which
nobody will see, but it makes absolutely no attempt to connect to
audiences, and it has nothing special to offer, so one can understand why the
money men felt it unsuitable for distribution, even after having sunk $35
million into it.