VOD Review: Solace.
This supernatural thriller is rough in places but remains engaging due to the talent of Anthony Hopkins and Colin Farrell.
Solace is a bit of a fascinating animal. The film began life as a sequel to the hit thriller Se7en before being reworked into a stand-alone story. Knowing this, I was keen to see if I could spot any distinct fingerprints from its genesis. Whoever re-wrote the script did a fairly thorough job of erasing any semblance, but you can tell that this film shares the DNA of that particular style of thriller.
Solace feels very much like a throwback to the serial killer, cat and mouse thrillers that Morgan Freeman dominated in the late 1990’s, for good or ill. While Freeman unfortunately doesn’t appear in this film, we get the supremely watchable Anthony Hopkins instead. It is his skill and rapport with his co-stars that really elevate Solace above the level of a mere curiosity.
The FBI are at their wits end trying to catch a serial killer whose methods are meticulous and uncanny. Agent Merriweather seeks the help of an old friend, Dr. John Clancy (Hopkins) against the advice of his partner, Agent Cowles. Dr. Clancy has a preternatural gift where he can see possible future events when he’s in contact with a person or object. This blessing is also a curse that has revealed to him the ultimate fate of his closest friends and family, leading him to live as a recluse. He agrees to help his friend, but the killer seems to always be one step ahead of even Dr. Clancy’s vision.
The supernatural thriller really dominated the popular consciousness of the 1990’s, especially when it involved preternatural criminals. On TV, The X-Files, Twin Peaks and Millennium were big hits. At the movies you had Se7en, Frailty, Kiss the Girls, and of course The Silence of the Lambs. Solace feels very much like it is cut from the same cloth as many of these films.
You have a serial killer whose methods are so extra-ordinary that you wonder if the guy is supernatural or even human! To suss out our perp, you have special agents who rely on a mix of science and mysticism which often conflict with each other. Psychology, as demonstrated by our ongoing fascination with criminal profilers in shows like Mindhunter and Hannibal, is pretty much elevated into a supernatural talent in most of the genre. Religious imagery and themes figure heavily. At its root, we have people struggling at the limit of human skill to confront something inhuman or monstrous.
While many modern shows use these tropes, you don’t get a lot of movies stalking that victim these days. Part of Solace’s charm is that it is such a throwback. Part of Solace’s weakness is that it is quite often a slave to the formula for those classics. Much like any genre piece that doesn’t seriously toy with the conventions, your enjoyment of this films is almost entirely dependent on how much you like the genre.
One aspect of this film that will please any viewer is Anthony Hopkins’ performance. He’s already proven that he can be perfectly malevolent as the villain in a thriller, but here he plays a flawed and broken hero. His ability to go from wistful and quiet into a sudden fervor with his trademark snarl is tremendously fun to watch. He really sells a character who has lived through both the highs and lows unique to his gift, a gift that makes him frighteningly superior yet achingly sympathetic. It’s a lot like Patrick Stewart’s performance in Logan. He’s a guy whose seen and done stuff that would literally make your head pop, but he’s vulnerable and human as well.
Another bonus of having Hopkins as your star is that he elevates everyone around him. Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Abbie Cornish play the FBI agents, and they’re not very well written or acted roles. Its only once they start interacting with Hopkins that they become more than cheap Scully and Mulder knock-offs. Colin Farrel has shown himself to be very talented of late, but he tends to be a touch melodramatic as a villain. Here his bombast is tempered by playing against Hopkin’s Dr. Clancy. They have a great rapport and it turns the second half of the film into a much more engaging drama as they circle each other like duelists.
Solace is a crime story that would be stronger if it could find a way to ditch the cops. The FBI agents are not only fairly thin, they’re spectacularly poor at their job. Agent Cowles is a profiler who only utters two lines of psyche evaluation all movie, both of which are neither helpful nor correct. She seems to be a scientist solely to be the skeptic that allows Dr. Clancy to shine. Agent Merriweather is almost a non-entity who exists just to allow a (rather interesting) plot twist to surface. You could easily re-write the whole plot so that Dr. Clancy is a former fed who occasionally offers insight into weird cases and write the two agents out altogether.
At the end of the day, Solace has enough strong points to overcome its stumbles. A nice game of cat and mouse unfolds between Hopkins and Farrell, who are engaging characters, so you can forgive the fact that the whole FBI investigation that brings them into opposition is dull and cliche. The kills aren’t especially exciting but they have a nice visual flair as Dr. Clancy recreates them in his mind’s eye. It’s not Brian Fuller‘s flair for stunning imagery, but it’s decent. You can kind of see most of the twists and turns coming, but its a fun ride while it lasts.
Solace is unlikely to make you a fan of supernatural thrillers if you weren’t already. Aficionados of the genre will likely appreciate the familiar set up and characters that call back to some of the more memorable films of this type. Those who are only passingly familiar with this kind of film would do much better to watch some of the truly excellent offerings that were ubiquitous in the late 90’s.