Tom Ricks (Ethan Hawke) is a dour, gravel-voiced American author who’s come to Paris to be with his young daughter. The problem is, his ex-wife has taken out a restraining order (“You know why,” she says with seething, cryptic malice), and he’s quickly kicked to the curb. One long bus ride later, Tom finds himself in the Gallic boondocks, so he takes a room at a seedy hotel run by a glad-handing gangster. This new bruiser acquaintance enlists Tom for an enigmatic task—to watch over an underground bunker several evenings a week where really bad things seem to be happening. If that weren’t enough, our hero meets a slinky woman (Kristin Scott Thomas) at a literary soiree, and the two go back to her bizarrely sparse 5th Arrondissement apartment for some soul-baring sex sessions that get increasingly perilous.
How do these disparate threads connect? Hardly at all, though Pawel Pawlikowski’s train wreck of a thriller, based on a novel by Douglas Kennedy, initially teems with promise. The actors are alluring and committed, the images mesmerizingly prismatic, and most scenes play out in tense long takes that would make Hitchcock proud. But as the mysteries start to be answered (often in ways that resemble failed parodies of Euro art-film pretension), all that goodwill evaporates. Irritated, you realize you’ve been watching an object that’s all surface, no soul.
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