Judge Gordon Sullivan restrained himself as he wrote this review.
Seclusion. Seduction. Survival.
Here's a recipe for disaster: make a movie and put a blonde with a "come-hither" look and her navel showing on the cover, flanked by two shadowy-but-maybe-hunky guys. Put a creepy and decrepit house in the background and give the film a kinky title like Restraint. Prime the audience for a pseudo-sexy generic thriller that will offer a little bit of titillation but nothing else.
That's exactly how Restraint sells itself, which is a tragedy. This little thriller from Australia is pretty short on titillation, but long on everything else that makes a thriller worth watching. For a story we get two lovers on the run hiding out in a (seemingly) abandoned house on their way to freedom. The lovers, Ron (Travis Fimmel) and Dale (Teresa Palmer, Wolf Creek), are responsible for a few deaths as they flee from their crime-ridden lives. They stop in the abode of Andrew (Stephen Moyer, Quills), a rich agoraphobe who seems to be hiding some secrets of his own. Ron and Dale take Andrew hostage to extort money from him, but the lines between captor and hostage never stay clear for long.
Restraint succeeds by putting interesting characters in a tense situation. We know just enough about everyone as the film starts to get a handle on the plot, but as the story unfolds we learn more about both the captors and the hostage. In a brilliant move, none of the characters are particularly likeable, but they have clear motivations and dark secrets which keep them compelling. The initial plot of the couple taking refuge is nothing new (it's actually pretty similar to the recent Dead Birds and Malevolence), but once they've got their hostage the movie becomes a nightmare mirror of Bertolucci's The Dreamers, chock full of psychosexual intrigue. The scheme that gets the captors their money is fairly novel, offering up a number of nail-biting moments of suspense.
None of these situations would work if it weren't for the fine performances from the leads. Although they look generic and replaceable on the cover, they prove themselves very capable on the screen. Teresa Palmer acts like the Australian love child of Zooey Deschanel and Scarlett Johansson. She does an amazing job playing victim to Ron and captor to Andrew, striking a delicate balance between strong and vulnerable. Travis Fimmel is equally effective as the psycho Ron. He often looks like Leonardo DeCaprio channeling Kalifornia-era Brad Pitt, but he shines in the role's quieter moments. I haven't seen Stephen Moyer in anything but Quills, but his turn here is utterly convincing. He has to start out as the weak agoraphobe and end as a strong character. Watching his transformation was one of the film's highlights.
Another highlight of Restraint is the wonderful cinematography. The film ignores realism from the start, going for a gritty, processed look that recalls films like Seven without openly aping them. The cinematography is effective in establishing the simultaneous sprawl and claustrophobia of the house, but it really comes into its own with the exterior shots. Scenes on the roads and bogs around the house are almost worth putting on a wall.
With all that said, the film isn't nearly perfect. The middle drags a bit, dialing down the suspense to give more character moments. That's not a bad thing necessarily, but it would have been nice to have character moments that moved the plot along a little faster. Also, while we get a number of glimpses into the lives of the characters, even more would have been nice. I wish that Andrew's motivations/backstory could have been a little more detailed by the film's end.
Lionsgate has given Restraint a decent package. The 2.35:1 anamorphic image is clean, highlighting the film's excellent cinematography. The audio is well-balanced and distortion free. The extras include a making-of featurette and cast/crew interviews. These are pretty standard, EPK-style supplements. There is also an alternate ending that offers the promise of a slightly happier resolution to the film. It's still ambiguous, but this ending is a little more realistic.
Restraint doesn't quite belong in the top tier of psychological thrillers, but it's a solid entry in the genre. Fans of thriller and hostage movies should take note and give the film a rental. Any other curious viewers are unlikely to be disappointed as well.
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