Play time: 1h 39min
Director: Stephen Gaghan
Screenwriters: Stephen Gaghan
Starring: Gabriel Mann, Gabrielle Union, Zooey Deschanel, Charlie Hunnam, Benjamin Bratt, Katie Holmes
“I remember this feeling of emptiness… always being cold.”
Abandon – An depressing movie
Abandon, the directorial debut of Oscar-winning Traffic writer Stephen Gaghan, intends to be as oppressively gloomy as possible, and it succeeds. This is an incredibly depressing movie, not because its themes are dark and saddening but because it’s filmed in dank shades of gray, because its characters are either miserable or repulsive, because its worldview, if it has one, is so hopelessly, unrelentingly bleak. It even turn the library into a terrible, frightening place.
The plot with commentary
I’m not entirely sure what the film was about. I understand the plot, I think, but I don’t see why a movie was made out of so banal a story, or why Gaghan works in such a portentous style. Abandon also loses points for misleading advertising: marketed as an intense supernatural thriller (or so I thought), it surprised me, and not pleasantly, by being nothing of the sort.
Katie Burke (Katie Holmes) is a senior in college, under tremendous pressure to finish her thesis and get a job. She is haunted by the memory of her artistic, pretentious free-spirit boyfriend Embry, who vanished two years ago after chiding the audience at one of his performances for coming to see him. Now it seems that he has returned, turning up mysteriously wherever Katie goes. What does he want?
Meanwhile, a recovering alcoholic police detective named Wade (Benjamin Bratt) is assigned the Embry disappearance as his first case back on the job. He and Katie slowly develop a rapport as both realize that something is horribly wrong. The movie flashes back to the time Embry was still on the radar and details the beginnings of their stormy relationship. Gabriel Mann plays Harrison, a smart, shy young man who incurred Embry’s wrath for being secretly in love with his girlfriend.
Abandon the thriller, builds suspense elements deliberately
That the movie is slow isn’t necessarily a problem; I’m actually biased towards thrillers that build suspense very deliberately. Abandon, however, doesn’t seem to be actively trying to build suspense. Indeed, not much of anything happens in the first hour, as we are slowly introduced to Katie and her troubled history; it plays like the pilot for a tv series more than anything else. The incessant gloom of these scenes really got to me; by the time Abandon‘s thriller element began to surface, I was starting to develop clinical depression.
The ads for the film are already screaming “Don’t give away the ending!” I won’t, no worries, but it’s worth noting that the twist Gaghan presents isn’t much of a conclusion; I was intrigued, assuming the movie would go somewhere with it, but no: the credits roll just as things are getting interesting. In any event, Paramount had better milk that surprise ending for all it’s worth, as otherwise this astonishingly snail-paced movie won’t stay in theaters very long.
An oppressive film by Gaghan
Watching Abandon is a very odd experience. There are some artful touches, such as a series of scenes set at a club, one shot entirely with strobe lights in the foreground and another in which the sound hauntingly fades out. Indeed, the film is an odd combination of patience-testing arthouse drama and schlocky teen thriller (though it does earn points for being set in college rather than high school). The third act goes off the deep end, for some reason fracturing the chronology and switching from mysteriously vacant to vacantly incomprehensible; the progression reminded me of Eye of the Beholder, a similar head-scratcher from a few years back.
If Gaghan’s intention was to make me feel bad, he certainly succeeded; his film is so oppressive as to induce self-hatred in the audience (I can’t really explain it, but the film’s tone stirred up all sorts of conflicting emotions as I watched; perhaps the fact that not much was happening on screen simply gave me the opportunity to brood). He has the markings of a talented filmmaker, but he needs a more dynamic movie. Abandon doesn’t entirely deserve it, but it’s destined for failure.