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Thursday, December 11, 2008


What Doesn't Kill You: The ModFab Review

Yari Film Group (100 Minutes)
Starring Mark Ruffalo, Ethan Hawke, Brian Goodman, Donnie Wahlberg and Amanda Peet
Written by Brian Goodman, Paul T. Murray and Donnie Wahlberg
Directed by Brian Goodman

There comes a point when goodwill runs out, and for me, it ran out about thirty heinously long minutes into Brian Goodman's woefully underwritten What Doesn't Kill You. Based on Goodman's own youth as a two-bit hood in rough-and-tumble Boston, the film (starring Mark Ruffalo as the conflicted Goodman and Ethan Hawke as his thug-with-a-heart-of-gold best friend Paulie) shows why the phrase "vanity project" was invented. Indeed, for viewers not related to Goodman, this film is little more than a middling variation on gangster thematics...in particular, the conflicted criminal motif that was better explored in The Sopranos and elsewhere.

Around the thirty-minute mark, as Hawke strains again his Bahstahn accent and Ruffalo, all sad eyes and method, fails again to discover any unexpected insights in the character -- a character, it should be noted, who also wrote the screenplay, cast himself in a supporting role, and is sitting not five feet away in the director's chair -- you get the unavoidable sensation that What Doesn't Kill You is more acting exercise than drama, a vanity project in search of vitality.

The plot summary (and I'm copying this from the press notes, so as to not bore myself to death typing it): "Brian and Paulie are friends who grew up like brothers on the gritty streets of South Boston. They do whatever it takes to survive, living by the code of their dog-eat-dog neighborhood. Petty crimes and misdemeanors grow into more serious offenses and eventually, they fall under sway to organized crime boss Pat Kelly (played by Goodman). As Brian becomes increasingly lost in a haze of drugs and 'jobs,' even the love he has for his wife (Amanda Peet) and his children does not seem like it will be enough to redeem him. Meanwhile, Paulie plans 'one last heist' but knows it will take both of them to pull it off. How can they escape the only life they know?"

How indeed.

I could beat up on this movie more, but the flimsy writing, blockheaded direction, and flatlined emotionality don't deserve it. I leave it to this: of all the disappointments on screen in What Doesn't Kill You, none is more heartbreaking than Ruffalo, an actor of immense promise a decade ago in his collaborations with writer/director Kenneth Lonergan on stage (This Is Our Youth) and on film (You Can Count On Me). Is this dull, distressing, fussy work all that's left of his doe-eyed stoicism? Let's hope that he gets better projects, and soon.
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Blogger Paul said...

oh no! And i do so love ruffalo the buffalo :(

12/11/08, 3:46 AM  

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