The novels of Patricia Highsmith have been turned often into cinema with varying degrees of success: "Strangers on a Train"; "Purple Noon"; "The Talented Mr. Ripley". So I was intrigued by this, a Highsmith story with which I was not familiar. The two lead actors, Paddy Considine & Julia Stiles, share a "Bourne" connection: Julia of course, played 'Nicky' in all three Bourne movies, Considine's best-known role is probably that of the tabloid journalist that gets gunned down in a London train station in an early setpiece in "Bourne Ultimatum". Here, Considine regrettably quashes his native English accent as Robert Forrester, a man who has just gone through a bitter divorce & moves to a small, unnamed town & takes a new job to get away from associations of his ex-wife. Though the nondescript locations are meant to suggest the Midwest (Highsmith set it in Pennsylvania), one can tell by the accents of the supporting actors that it was actually filmed in Canada.
Robert is deeply unhappy & emotionally fragile . . .just prior to the divorce, he'd had a pretty bad mental breakdown, and now he's living alone in a tiny rented house in Nowheresville. On his drive home from work, he comes across Jenny's (Julia Stiles) house, set in a rather remote rural area, and is drawn by the lights on in her rooms & the pretty picture of happy domesticity she presents as she goes about her homely tasks: cooking, having dinner with her boyfriend. Robert is a nightly visitor to Jenny's, and although his motives are not sinister, try explaining that to the young woman when she catches him prying. Despite this unpromising meeting, the two feel a kinship with one another from the start. Jenny is lonely, too, in a smothering relationship with a violent man and as is revealed gradually bit by bit, emotionally fragile herself. In fact, her emotional clinginess soon feels to Robert like stalking, somewhat turning the tables on him. Is the angelic-looking Jenny his Angel of Mercy or a bad omen? As misfortunes begin to pile up, and the hapless yet innocent Robert is in precisely the right place at the wrong time to appear responsible for a string of mysterious deaths, we begin to wonder.
Despite a promising premise, this movie never quite realized its potential. Both lead actors have been far more dynamic in other roles. Considine's nervous, sad-sack low affect is appropriate to his shell-shocked character, but Stiles is almost a nonentity as Jenny, lacking in visual or dynamic energy. Maybe the dreary weather was getting to the actors .. the unrelenting gray palette and monotone line readings certainly got to me. Caroline Dhavernas provides a dash of color as Robert's sadistic ex-wife (ironically named 'Nicky'). The ending is unexpected, which is saying something for a movie that barely held my interest in the getting there. Having not read the Highsmith novel of the same name, I can't say whether it is a faithful adaptation, but it's a bit of a miss.