Oftentimes, I lament the mindlessness of big-budget Hollywood thrillers and crime stories. Too often these movies seem to be all about the concept, to the detriment of dramatic purpose. In addition, character exploration frequently takes a back seat to relentless plot and surprise twists in the story.
Then along comes a movie like “Tomnorrow You’re Gone” — a small, more independent-minded film with a very modest budget—and I pine for the pacing and engaging kind of plot only Hollywood can produce.
Directed by: David Jacobson
Written by: Matthew F. Jones
Starring: Stephen Dorff, Michelle Monaghan, Willem Dafoe
It’s not that “Tomorrow You’re Gone” is a bad movie. It’s not. But it’s flat and slow and never succeeds at pulling a viewer in to its Southern Gothic, neo-noir milieu.
In the movie, Charlie, a recently released convict is tasked by ‘The Buddha’ with making a hit to get back at someone who broke his trust. Charlie owes the Buddha his life and agrees. Along the way, Charlie meets Florence, a mysterious and sultry woman, who may or not be his conscience. If Florence doesn’t exist and is only a figment of Charlie’s imagination, it seems an odd choice to introduce her as a lesbian porn actress. Whether real or not, Florence accompanies Charlie on his journey as he starts to question his mission. Ultimately, he defies the Buddha and both perish as the screen goes dark.
Charlie is played by the perpetually brow-furrowed Stephen Dorff, and Michelle Monaghan, who some may remember from Boston’s own Gone Baby Gone, is Florence. Willem Dafoe makes the cameo as Buddha, and the cast names are enough to draw attention to the movie. But even talented performers can do little with stilted dialogue and slow pacing. Tomorrow You’re Gone is like a long, languid drag on a cigarette, which can make for a nice moment, but it can’t carry a ninety minute dramatic piece.
“Tomorrow You’re Gone” is based on a book titled “Boot Tracks,” and I’m willing to bet the novel is more effective. The movie version feels caught between an attempt at cinematic artistry and a story it is trying to tell. It might not separate itself enough from the source material and is thus too brooding and introverted. If you’re going to tell a crime tale on the screen (as opposed to the page), go for the throat. I wanted suspense and intensity out of this movie, but it never builds toward anything cathartic.
I give credit to the producers for a different kind of movie, but the way they go about plumbing Charlie’s mind and soul never is fully engaging. In a few ways, this movie reminds me of Angel Heart, another Southern noir, but one that manages to balance form and content in a relentless, gripping way. Tomorrow You’re Gone has an admirable style, but it’s story never gets off the ground and its characters don’t fully connect.
Hollywood certainly turns out its share of overwrought and bloodless product, but it still knows how to tell an engaging tale. “Tomorrow You’re Gone” doesn’t need fancy effects and explosions, but it could surely use a dose of movie magic those in Tinseltown are so artful at conjuring.