Admittedly, it’s strange to start a review with a list of complaints, but the new thriller “Every Breath You Take,” directed by Vaughn Stein, written by David Murray, and starring Casey Affleck, just begs for it. Much like how Affleck’s psychiatrist character deals with his patients, it is fitting to address the obvious issues with this film in a series of bullet points:
- From a technical standpoint, the film is underlit and over-edited.
- Terrible characters lacking backstory and development, ultimately bordering on caricature, often seen crying and staring out of windows.
- A premise reminiscent of a Lifetime movie of the week, expanded upon in a script ostensibly written by combining genre tropes and cliches.
- Last, but certainly not least, Michelle Monaghan is woefully underutilized.
While this is far from an all-encompassing list of issues, these are the problems that stand out most while watching Stein’s rote psychological thriller.
“Every Breath You Take” stars Affleck as Phillip, a psychiatrist who jots down his patient’s issues in bullet points, much like the list above. His methods are a tad unconventional, sharing his own personal struggles with a patient, Daphne (Emily Aly Lynd), who is suicidal and on the verge of a breakthrough. When she is found dead, her brother, James (Sam Claflin), shows up at Phillip’s house. Unbeknownst to him, James is the son of a famous author and the man in charge of selling Daphne’s estate, which means he may be sticking around. He sticks around for dinner, at least, where he meets Phillip’s wife, Grace (Monoghan), and daughter, Lucy (India Easley), shooting flirtatious glances across the table. His blue smile and white eyes cast a spell, and it isn’t long before he starts showing up at Lucy’s school and Grace’s real-estate showings, secretly seducing both.
Though the twists and turns are rather dull, the cast elevates the material with a slew of solid performances. Affleck, in particular, is in full-blown Oscar mode, doing his sincere best to save Stein’s feature. Affleck gives everything he can, delivering an increasingly frazzled performance against Clafin, who is chillingly confident. The same can be said about Monoghan, who previously worked with Affleck on the crime drama, “Gone Baby Gone,” and has shown in a variety of projects that she is more than capable of delivering a show-stopping performance. Unfortunately, she’s sidelined throughout much of the film and doesn’t have nearly enough to work with.
Quality actors doing their absolute best can only carry a film so far, when you have what boils down to a rather outlandish premise that hinges almost completely on character motivations, which are never fully explained. Why does James do this to Phillip? And why does Phillip do nothing about it? The audience is asked to go along with these affairs just so we can eventually arrive at a mansion, a car chase, a couple of murders, a handful of misdirections, plus a finale that is more sparklers than fireworks. Stein is expecting the film to go out with a bang, but ‘Every Breath’ fizzles on impact.
The same can be said for the big reveal. The twist in “Every Breath You Take,” which arrives in the final act of the film, isn’t given any foreshadowing. Necessary clues are tossed to the side for therapy sessions with Affleck. Though the actors suggest a better result, Stein’s thriller is really just a Lifetime movie dressed up in a tux, and the problems start piling up faster than you–or any therapist–can count. [D-]