When FBI Special Agent Joe Merriwether (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is unable to solve a series of homicides, he enlists the help of a former colleague, Dr. John Clancy (Anthony Hopkins), a retired physician with psychic powers. Soon, Clancy realizes that his exceptional intuitive powers are no match for the extraordinary powers of the vicious murderer (Colin Farrell) on a mission.
Ahhhh the good old police procedural, oh how inescapable you are, no matter where I turn. As I write this, I could turn on my TV and see a low rent version of ‘Lethal Weapon’ starring Damon Wayans as a procedural, or catch some classic ‘Law & Order’ reruns. The same can be said for the big screen; look at what's playing at your local Cineplex and you will see a remarkably similar procedural on the docket (at the moment of this review, that would be ‘Patriots Day’). Studios have caught on to the fact that they need to jazz their procedurals up in order to get butts in the seats, so we can now expect a twist on the genre so they can claim uniqueness. Sometimes that twist can be so insane that it becomes the only reason to see the movie, and that is exactly where they want the viewer.
The special sauce in ‘Solace’ is that its main character John Clancy (Anthony Hopkins) can literally see short glimpses of the future, and in some cases, a certain person’s future. Think of him as one of the precogs in ‘Minority Report.’ This is a premise that, if handled correctly, could be a whole lot of fun in a schlocky B movie kind of way. That is, if the filmmakers realize that and the actor is willing to go along with the absurdity and embrace it. So, let me ask you something. Besides his recent turn on the small screen in HBO’s ‘Westworld,’ when was the last time you really saw him really embrace a role and not “phone it in,” so to speak? Needless to say, before this recent turn, it had been a while. In fact, I would say Hopkins’ version of acting, even in his prime, is too “method” to really understand the potential here, and for the first half of the movie, Hopkins is bored, and that becomes one of the major problems here.
Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Abbie Cornish play Joe Merriwether and Katherine Cowles, two FBI investigators who recruit John to help them find the killer. In the very first vision John has, the killer is revealed to be Colin Farrell’s character, Charles Ambrose. This reveals an odd dilemma for ‘Solace;’ because we are dealing with the future, we can't also have the mystery of not knowing who the killer is, and that is a real tension killer. This movie's second biggest problem is that the entire movie lacks tension, and the first half is such a rote procedural that it forgets to have fun with its silly premise. This is where it occurred to me that we had a directorial problem, not an acting problem. In fact, Morgan and Cornish are two actors that can be good, but not on their own. They both need direction and motivation from their director, and since director Alfonso Poyart has no direction, the two actors just read their lines and walk off set because that's all they are told to do. Specifically, Morgan in the right role can be electric (look at this season’s ‘Walking Dead’), but I have noticed he needs larger than life characters so he can chew that scenery; and to put him in a no fun detective role seems like a waste.
‘Solace’ does pick up about two thirds into its 104-min runtime to finally realize how to have some fun with the premise and give us a jolt of adrenaline in this otherwise drab film. This movie needed an actor that gets the material and hams it up. That actor here is Colin Farrell. Another twist here is that he is a psychic like John, only he claims to be stronger, and Farrell pulls this off with an energy that makes him the stand out of the film, while still creating a character that is actually sympathetic. He is only in it for the last third of the film, but as soon as he shows up, it seems like the movie and even Hopkins wakes up from his Odin sleep, and from that point on, they start to have some real fun with the psychic premise here. We see Joe’s premonitions played out in real time from the beginning, and when you have a car chase between the two psychics, you aren't sure what is real and what is a premonition. This shows that they actually did have ideas on how to execute this wild premise, it just takes a while to get there. And if anyone is hoping for a dueling psychic chess game between these two to prove who can truly see every possible outcome of a dangerous situation, then you are in luck. We see it happen here, and it is as ridiculous as it seems in a fun schlocky kind of way.
‘Solace’ is a movie with a divisive premise that doesn't quite live up to its full potential for a large majority of its runtime. What we are instead given is a drab procedural thriller with a bored cast that you could have honestly found on TV in the 90s. It takes a wonderfully maniacal performance from Colin Farrell to wake the movie up and give it the energy to pull off its psychic detective premise. This makes me think that they didn’t know what they wanted this movie to be: a by-the-book procedural, or a divisive thriller. Instead of picking one, it tries to do both and that hurts the first half of the movie. Unfortunately, it is too little too late for this movie and you just can't find enough solace in ‘Solace.’
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats:
Lionsgate Premier brings ‘Solace’ to Blu-ray with a textured slipcover to hard cover casing that features a very cool cover that I wouldn’t mind as a poster on my wall. Inside lies a BD-50 Blu-ray with a Digital HD Ultraviolet download code. Once popped in, and past the trailers, we are met with a main menu that features clips from the film and not just a still image. It is always nice to see a main menu that adds a little extra, and it was much appreciated by yours truly.
‘Solace’ shows a deadly premonition for your television on Blu-ray with an 1080P MPEG-4 AVC encode that impresses despite one small flaw. Details on the filming of ‘Solace’ are quite scarce, although judging by the amount of grain, I would say this was shot on film. Framed at a 2.40:1 aspect ratio, one thing I didn’t mention in my review is that this movie is quite gory and doesn’t shy away from it. What goes along with that is a healthy amount of grain to give a gritty realistic tone to this film that fulfills its ambitions to be a gritty procedural thriller. All that grain and grit doesn’t stop this from having a great amount of clarity, especially in exterior shots throughout the city.
White levels are striking without being overbearing, while black levels are an issue in select scenes. Darker scenes in the subway, or in John’s dimly lit house, feature some very inky blacks that crush part of the image and make it softer than the rest of the presentation. You would also think that the premonitions in the movie would be stylized to jazz this gritty thriller up a bit. Instead, they attempt to fool you and confuse what is real and what is a premonition, and as much as that works in the context of the film, it hurts the potential of these premonitions to make them feel unique. There is no getting around the fact that this feels like a transfer stuck between a made for television production, and one that is more theatrical. But these days that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Think of this as something along the lines of an HBO drama.
Lionsgate releases ‘Solace’ on Blu-ray with a DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix that is as impressive as its production allows it to be. Simple street chases bring your home theater to life, with the action primarily delegated to the fronts while manic night life comes alive in your surrounds, giving an immersive quality to the film though the action itself is rather rote. This happens quite frequently throughout, where I feel others would just be a front heavy mix that adds little to nothing to the experience.
The same can be said for the score. It is a fairly bland thriller score that is treated like it is masterful. It is given weight and heft by the LFE track, and it spills through the sound field and into your surrounds. Lionsgate tends to take films that at first glance wouldn’t lend themselves to a great audio track, but they take that as a challenge to compliment the film perfectly and elevate the material.
Commentary with Afonso Poyart – I normally like more than one expert on my commentaries, but Poyart is very informative. Right off the bat, we are given an explanation as to why the film was titled ‘Solace.’ There is a minor subplot involving Clancy, his family, and his depression and how he finds “Solace” in those aspects in his life. It’s a minor subplot that comes back for an end twist. It also explains why Colin Farrell is in so little of the film. It is because they only had him for under a week of filming.
“Visions and Voices”: The Making of ‘Solace’ Featurette (HD 8:40) – A typical featurette that introduces you to the actors and how they approached their characters.
‘Solace’ Trailer (HD 1:54)
A little fun fact about ‘Solace’ that I found while doing my research, is that it was originally written to be a follow up to ‘Seven,’ then got shelved after director David Fincher rejected the project. After a troubled reception at the Toronto Film Festival, it was shelved by Relative Media before being picked up by Lionsgate Premiere. Needless to say, this film went through a troubled production. But that doesn’t mean it is doomed to fail. Take ‘World War Z’ for example. That was a troubled production that turned itself around to be a decent success. But that isn’t the case here. ‘Solace’ doesn’t trust its own premise of a psychic helping the FBI, and only has fun with the idea in its final third. That isn’t to say that there isn’t any merit here, because that final third has a great deal of fun with its premise, and left me smiling for much of its climax. What we are left with is a confused movie that I am guessing confused even its distributers. Luckily it fell in the hands of Lionsgate, who put the same level of care into this disc as they normally do with most of their releases. For that I would recommend this for a high rental.