Blending bleak naturalism with an enchanting sense of surrealism is by no means an easy task. It takes a deft, accomplished filmmaker to pull it off, and while animation studios such as Pixar and Ghibli have found that triumphant balance, in live action cinema it’s more of rarity. The Javier Bardem-starring drama Biutiful pulled it off remarkably, able to be so grounded and moving in parts when dealing with themes such as grief, and yet carried a fantastical edge throughout. In Afonso Poyart’s’ thriller Solace, however, the inability to combine both sensibilities is striking.
Setting itself up as a whodunit of sorts, we meet Detective FBI agent Joe Merriweather (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) who, alongside his partner Katherine Cowles (Abbie Cornish), is striving to get his hands on an elusive serial killer – murdering innocent people in a similarly savage way, without leaving a trace. In a bid to speed up the investigation before the killer strikes again, the agent enlists the retired John Clancy (Anthony Hopkins), after much persuasion, hoping that his psychic powers will help them track down this mysterious murderer.
Solace is too unsubtle a piece of cinema, never revelling in the subtext in what is a frustratingly melodramatic production. Poyart leaves so little to the imagination, such as when we explicitly watch on as an autopsy is carried out on a young boy. A better filmmaker could evoke such feelings of discomfort without the need to be so graphic and overstated in their approach. The supernaturalism is jarring too, and while an essential narrative device, it seeks only in taking the viewer out of the story, carelessly detracting from any sense of realism which could have laid the foundations for an engaging character drama.
Alas, we’re left with a film that is distinctively disengaging and emotionally detached. Plus, and to reference Bardem’s Biutiful one final time, another difference is in the quality of the acting. Jeffrey Dean Morgan may bear an uncanny physical resemblance to the aforementioned, renowned Spanish actor, but sadly any such comparisons end abruptly there.