The tempo is swift though the timbre is hollow in this superficially engrossing thriller, which channels the go-for-broke spirit of Brian De Palma and Dario Argento without quite attaining the same senses-altering fervor. Director Eugenio Mira and screenwriter Damien Chazelle (the latter of whom won big at this year’s Sundance Film Festival for his jazz-drummer drama, Whiplash) have a killer pitch: Classical-pianist Tom Selznick (Elijah Wood), reluctantly returning to the spotlight after a five-year absence, is ordered by a mostly unseen assassin (John Cusack, dryly menacing) to play a perfect concert. Miss one note and a bullet will take care of the rest. This crazy demand actually happens in full view of a sold-out crowd (Selznick and his tormentor communicate via ear mike), and though the villain’s motives are murky, it soon becomes clear that he has more on his mind than musical integrity.
Wood isn’t particularly physically convincing as a prodigy musician (he seems a hair too much like a tickle-the-ivories mimic), but he still ably portrays Tom’s near-crippling anxiety, which stems from a career-stalling bout of stage fright. The film’s baroque visuals—spiced up with Dutch angles, Steadicam one-shots, split screens and even a murderer’s POV—mirror the character’s paranoid, ever-shifting headspace, and the alluring stylistic excess helps smooth over some of the sillier plot complications. This is hardly a symphony of terror, but it’s still a solidly composed exercise in suspense.
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