Best Laid Plans

on September 10, 1999 by Mike Kerrigan
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This very stylish thriller pays homage to the classic film noir tradition and delivers it with enormous distinction. Mike Barker directs with absolute confidence and to great effect. He pushes the camera into looking at scenes in a fresh and original way and always keeps the tension level cranked up close to the breaking point.
Alessandro Nivola ("Face/Off") plays Nick, a world-weary college drop-out who has moved back to his shabby hometown to take care of his ailing father. Dad dies and leaves him nothing but debts. He has a few drinks with old high school friend Bryce (Josh Brolin) and later is awakened by a phone call from his frantic friend.
Bryce has been accused of rape by bar pickup Lissa (Reese Witherspoon) whom he is now holding hostage, chained to a pool table, at the luxury residence he is housesitting. The tale then flashes back to four months earlier and piles on surprise after surprise. All the while the mood remains somber and downbeat but the film never drags.
Barker is helped immeasurably by three cracking performances. Nivola has total command of his character and is destined to become a major screen presence. Witherspoon ("Cruel Intentions") hits all the right notes as she takes Lissa on an emotional roller coaster. However, it is Brolin who provides the biggest and most pleasant surprise. He plays Bryce with exact measures of panic and pathos. His character is by far the least flashy of the three leads but unless you totally buy him nothing else works.
Barker is also well served by the tech people. The production design by Sophie Becher uses a bold palette that works beautifully with the moody lighting. The camerawork by Ben Seresin is terrific.
In fact, the only thing wrong with this movie is the rather lame ending. After a cracking and totally unexpected reveal, it just sort of peters out. A film like this needs one final plot twist that leaves moviegoers walking out of the theatre with a wry smile on their faces accompanied by an incredulous shaking of the head. Starring Alessandro Nivola, Reese Witherspoon and Josh Brolin. Directed by Mike Barker. Written by Ted Griffin. Produced by Alan Greenspan, Betsy Beers, Chris Moore and Sean Bailey. Crime drama. Rated R for language and sexuality. A Fox Searchlight release. Running time: 92 min.
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