Judge Clark Douglas always tries to show a little tenderness.
An edge of your seat thriller.
I have to admit, I was somewhat startled to discover that Tenderness actually existed. A 2009 release starring Russell Crowe that I had never seen any previews for or heard anything about? That seemed particularly odd considering Crowe's estimable star power. The general rule of thumb is that one should avoid new movies featuring big stars that receive absolutely no press whatsoever (anybody remember The Bridge of San Luis Rey?) and the handful of published reviews for Tenderness suggested that it was quite a mess. The film's theatrical run consisted of playing on one screen for one week. Wow. For the first twenty minutes or so, I was convinced that the reviews were wrong and that I was in for a compelling drama. Alas, after those 20 minutes the film starts shuffling down a slow, meandering road of routine melodrama and thriller clichés.
Lori (Sophie Traub, The Interpreter) is a teenage girl who doesn't exactly have a terrific life. She works a dead-end job for a perverted employer and is forced to watch her mom engaging in an on-and-off relationship with an abusive man. For years, Lori has spent her free time obsessing over a young man named Eric Poole (Jon Foster, Pandorum). Eric committed a series of grisly murders during his early teenage years and is about to be released from juvenile detention. A retired police detective (Russell Crowe, A Beautiful Mind) is convinced that Eric will try to murder again, and decides to keep an eye on Eric after he is released. Unsurprisingly, Lori introduces herself to Eric shortly after his release and persuades him to trust her. As Lori and Eric begin a long road trip to an unknown destination, how will their relationship develop?
The answer to that question is unfortunately a rather dull one, which is particularly disappointing given what a good job the film does of establishing the characters early on. The introductory scenes for Lori, Eric, and Detective Cristofuoro are dramatically compelling and wonderfully subtle, fully establishing who these people are and what their situation is. The frustrating thing is that after these set-up scenes, the film fails to give the characters much of interest to do.
The fault doesn't lie with the performances. Traub's turn is a particularly strong piece of work; she comes across as both world-weary and painfully naïve. It's a fascinating fusion between childish immaturity and jaded cynicism that's particularly effective. Foster may be a little bit less than commanding as Eric, but his enigmatic nature serves the character well. Crowe brings a sad-sack matter-of-factness to his performance that I found appealing. That's all well and good, but what use is this fine work when you give the couple so little interesting development and Crowe nothing more to do in most scenes than walk from one place to another as he trails the potential killer?
The film's title comes from Crowe's suggestion that the serial killer enjoys killing people not because of some deep-rooted bloodlust but rather because of the pure intimacy of seeing the life drain out of another human being. "The tenderness," he says mournfully. Elsewhere, the film's themes are spelled out via obvious, heavy-handed narration from Crowe. The seasoned actor delivers the lines with sincerity, but that doesn't change the fact that they're crummy lines. The scenes of trailing and stalking that comprise so much of the film's running time are terribly lacking in tension; directed with a lackluster blandness by John Polson (who previously helmed Swimfan).
At least the DVD transfer is excellent, offering exceptional detail and depth. The darker scenes do get just a bit murky at times, but otherwise I have no real complaints. Flesh tones are accurate and the moody color palette comes across nicely. Audio is solid as well, with the understated dialogue getting a particularly solid mix. The gentle score does a nice job of never overplaying the situation, though now and then I almost wanted it to inject an artificial thrill or two into the proceedings. The only extra on the disc is a brief featurette called "Finding Tenderness: Bringing the Novel to the Screen."
Fans of Crowe might consider giving this one a rent, just to check out a performance that will be ignored or forgotten by most, but the average viewer should pass on this disappointing film.
The film may be tender, but it's not very good. Guilty.
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