So, this suicidal college student walks into a psychiatrist's office... no, seriously. Sam (Ewan McGregor) has the misfortune of substituting for a few sessions for a colleague (Janeane Garofalo) when she gets a little loopy with the drugs. Her first patient, and seemingly only patient, is Henry Letham (Ryan Gosling). On only their second meeting, Henry announces that he is going to kill himself in three days, at midnight. Sam spends the rest of his time, divided between his ex-patient/girlfriend (Naomi Watts) and trying to figure out why Henry wants to kill himself. And don't forget Henry's dead parents (Bob Hoskins and Kate Burton) who show up in the real world. Describing past that would be like trying to explain a Lynch film (notably Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive), and no one should have these secrets ruined.
The premise sounds melodramatic and short on ideas, and admittedly those were my first thoughts. But director Marc Forster, after the powerhouse Monster's Ball, last year's classy Finding Neverland, and Stay, is on a roll the likes of which we haven't seen in a long time, turning in three startlingly different films directed with the same deft attentiveness and nuanced understanding of character. Unlike Wes Anderson or David Gordon Green, Forster's style is much more subtle and underplayed, paying more attention to shadows, reflections and lights than pastels or jumpy narratives. He's the real thing, a class-A director.
Give special attention to the script, easily one of the year's best, by David Benioff. In a film that begs to be sappy, with dead parents and suicidal tendencies, Benioff finds the twists and turns of the mind much more interesting than the vocal sentiments. The dialogue is crisper than a brand-new dollar bill, giving the actors a lot to play with. McGregor has his juiciest role since Big Fish and plays it with expert resolve. Watch the emotional complexity that Naomi Watts brings to the troubled girlfriend who must watch the madness on the peripheral plain. However, it's Gosling who steals the show, looking charmingly uneasy, digging deep into Henry's fractured mind. Forster works wonders with the actors, keeping a film that is trippier than anything to come out so far this year, strangely grounded in the humanity of the situation. Films like this don't allow you to anticipate what's coming, deciding to instead sneak into your body and astound you with the widest range of emotions. You won't see it coming either.
But if you don't stay, try the door.
Run time: 99 mins
In Theaters: Friday 21st October 2005
Box Office USA: $3.3M
Distributed by: 20th Century Fox
Production compaines: Regency Enterprises, 20th Century Fox
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 27%
Fresh: 33 Rotten: 90
IMDB: 6.9 / 10
Director: Marc Forster
Screenwriter: David Benioff
Starring: Ewan McGregor as Sam Foster, Ryan Gosling as Henry Letham, Naomi Watts as Lila Culpepper, Kate Burton as Mrs. Letham, Elizabeth Reaser as Athena, Bob Hoskins as Dr. Leon Patterson, Janeane Garofalo as Dr. Beth Levy, Jessica Hecht as Boy's Mother, BD Wong as Bradley Ren, BD Wong as Dr. Bradley Ren, BD Wong as Dr. Bradley Ren, BD Wong as Dr. Bradley Ren, BD Wong as Dr. Bradley Ren, Mark Margolis as Bookstore Owner, Mark Margolis as Bookstore Owner, Mark Margolis as Bookstore Owner, Mark Margolis as Bookstore Owner