Tomorrow You're Gone
Matthew F. Jones
Stephen Dorff, Michelle Monaghan, Willem Dafoe, Tara Buck
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What begins as a simple ex-con revenge flick becomes a convoluted attempt at surreal mind games in Tomorrow You're Gone, the latest in a string of poor choices for gifted actor Stephen Dorff.
Dorff hasn't become a big name like many talented actors of his generation. Instead, he's largely appeared in small budget flicks whose familiarity to common moviegoers is almost non-existent. Even in the worst films, Dorff clearly displays a range of skill that deserves better material and although Sofia Coppola attempted to give him that vehicle with Somewhere, Dorff's fortunes did not improve. As Charlie Rankin, Dorff yields a strong central performance as a thief and murderer whose emergence from prison is met with a new job opportunity, to seek revenge against a man whom his good buddy the Buddha (Willem Dafoe) wants dead. Although he carries out the task effectively, he leaves a single loose end, the man's wife (Tara Buck) and the Buddha wants her dead.
Sometimes the simplest explanation for a plot is the one that needs to work out best, but director David Jacobson attempts to meditate on mental illness through the debut script by Matthew F. Jones. In it, Jones paints Ranking as a disturbed man haunted by his past and all of that begins blending together as Charlie and the audience struggle to piece together what's real and what's within his imagination. The finale never quite answers the questions, which adds to the confusion most viewers will feel watching the unclear narrative unfolds.
Jacobson hasn't had a lot of success. I was first introduced to him with his serial killer drama Dahmer, which was a capable effort, but hinged entirely on the brilliant star-making turn of Jeremy Renner. This is the first film Jacobson has crafted from someone else's script and perhaps a bit more re-authoring could have enhanced Jones' effort. Then again, when everything in the film hinges on the mind games being played on the audience and on its protagonist, there's only so much you can do to fix what's broken.
Michelle Monaghan's appearance as a hooker who tries to settle Charlie down and keep him from going off the deep end, is just another confusing aspect to a film that loses itself along the journey. Monaghan has frequently been better, or at least more believable, but what material she's given doesn't give her much room to improve. More films like Source Code could engender in me a greater respect for her, but right now I'm mostly disappointed. Dafoe's performance is fitting, but brief, giving the film a much needed jolt at key moments, but not enough to sustain the effort. An expanded role for the villainous Buddha might have made everything more coherent.
Thrillers like this hinge as much on story as it does on photography and director of photography Michael Fimognari makes one colossally bad decision after another. It's clear Fimognari is attempting to comment on the darkness of man's soul with his frequent use of darkness as a visual motif. It's a frightening and compelling theme to use in a film like Tomorrow You're Gone, but when it becomes so overbearing that action on screen is difficut to discern, it's been permitted too much influence. Great cinematographers know how to light an environment to give the impression of impeding darkness without bathing actors in physical blackness, but Fimognari employs key lights and minimal chiaroscuro effects to poor effect, some scenes becoming nearly impossible to watch. I lament over what someone like Matthew Libatique or Michael Ballhaus could have done with this, but considering the production, they probably weren't affordable.
Tomorrow You're Gone struggles with its core elements, creating frustration and confusing within the audience, two things that thrillers really need to avoid. Making a murky comment infrequently isn't unwarranted, but when that's all there is and the resolution only exacerbates the trouble, it's impossible not to see the film as a failure. Jacobson hasn't had a lot of success in his career and aside from casting terrific actors in roles that demand great strength of character and personality, it doesn't appear as if we should expect a renaissance of talent. The only reason to sit through the film entirely is to see how Dorff handles the material, otherwise, it's an easy decision to skip this genre piece.
April 2, 2013