J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Drowning: A Waterlogged Psychological Thriller

It takes advanced psychological training to really delve into a suspect’s inner psyche, but not in Danny Miller’s case. You tell just by looking at him he is an unhinged psychopath. Partly it is the piercing stare, but the total disregard for personal space does not help either. When he starts stalking the forensic psychologist who helped convict him of murder, the white bread Tom Seymour should just violate his parole, but instead he obsesses right back in Bette Gordon’s The Drowning (trailer here), which opens today in New York.

While perambulating in sleepy Connecticut, Seymour and his wife Lauren pull a would be suicide out of the drink and resuscitate him. Much to his surprise, Seymour subsequently learns this was the creepy minor he helped incarcerate. Of course, he cannot tell his wife any of this, so she is rather baffled why he acts so standoffish whenever Miller comes around to thank them, over and over again.

Apparently, Seymour cut a few ethical corners in his original examination, but the relentless stalker behavior ought to confirm justice was done. However, his in-the-know parole officer has gone over to Team Miller and is pressuring Seymour to play nice.

Basically, The Drowning is one long face-palm of a film. Talk about doing things the hard way. If there is ever a perversely difficult option, these characters will go for it every time. Seriously, you would think Seymour would find a way to tell his wife, “look, I can’t spell it out, but I know this guy from my work, so be careful.” Conversely, you would hope she would get suspicious constantly running into him in the City at the Ace Hotel, Magnolia Bakery, Chelsea Piers, and the Gagosian gallery. Quell coincidence.

As Seymour the head-shrinker, Josh Charles is dull enough to pass for someone who prefers CT to NYC. Frankly, Julia Stiles is one of the most under-rated screen actresses working today, but here she is stuck playing one of the most unintuitive characters to ever navigate the streets of Lower Manhattan. Avan Jogia plays Miller to the hilt, gluttonously chewing the scenery. We appreciate the effort, but it makes the underlying premise all the more difficult to buy into. At least we can still count on John C. McGinley to spread some sunshine as Seymour’s former-dodgy prosecutor-turned-dodgy defense attorney friend.

With their adaptation of Pat Barker’s novel, screenwriters Stephen Molton and Frank Pugliese clearly want us to leave the theater thinking: Miller was drowning in water, but Seymour was drowning in lies. Oh, the irony. Unfortunately, we are always six or seven steps ahead of everyone in the film, which gets boring after a while. Despite some colorful supporting turns, The Drowning is not recommended when it opens today (5/10) in New York, at the IFC Center.

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