Rated PG-13 - Running Time: 1:39 - Released 10/18/02
Screenwriter Stephen Gaghan, who got his start writing for TV shows like NYPD Blue and The Practice before penning such notable recent films as Rules Of Engagement and Traffic, takes the directors chair for the first time with his latest script, Abandon. A thriller of unconventional depth, it tells the story of a young woman trying to finish up her thesis at an exclusive (unnamed) college while plagued by visions of her missing ex-lover, who disappeared two years ago. Like Gaghans other works, it contains numerous characters who are more complex than they would normally be; even the bit players seem to have a life beyond their appearances on the screen. The films star, Katie Holmes, acquits herself well with a difficult part; co-stars Benjamin Bratt and Charlie Hunnam are adequate in supporting roles, but it is writer-director Gaghan whose style makes the movie enjoyably visceral. Utilizing interesting musical choices, strange sound effects, and quasi-surrealistic lighting and camera angles, he creates an atmosphere which may or may not be reality, or may only be the reality of one or another character.
Holmes plays Katie Burke, an intelligent, career-driven finance
student completing her final, pressure-filled weeks of school
while interviewing for a job with a highly-placed New York corporation.
With the help of a psychiatric counselor (Tony Goldwyn), she is
trying to cope with final exams and completing her thesis, but
her nerves really snap when shes approached by Detective
Wade Handler (Bratt). Wade, a recovering alcoholic with a checkered
history of his own, is investigating the disappearance of Katies
lover from sophomore year, a wealthy and artistic egomaniac named
Embry Larkin (Hunnam) who disappeared shortly after purchasing
plane tickets to Greece, having never used them. Wades questions
trigger a flood of memories that undermine Katies ability
to complete her various projects; while he talks to everyone from
her roommate Samantha (Zooey Deschanel, putting forth another
excellent supporting performanceIve yet to see her
do wrong) to the mousy library assistant (Melanie Lynskey) to
another boy who has a crush on Katie (Gabriel Mann), she begins
seeing Embry in strange places, as if hes stalking her.
Meanwhile she begins to develop feelings for Wade that may force
her to compromise her career plans.
For what I suppose must be classified as a teen thriller, this film has a surprising amount of substance. It does contain a twist ending which I will not reveal but which is more effective than most that I have seen. But I feel that director Gaghans real genius lies in his ability to create mood. There is scarcely a scene which does not contain some kind of strange feeling to it; the whole film is immersed in a kind of altered-reality sensation, aided by music, lighting, and sounds which, while they do not suggest any specific conclusions, simply evoke the general feeling of unease. Something seems not right, and as we find out in the final reel, something definitely is not right, but it is not the standard collection of conventional horror-thriller elements that make you grin and say, Oh-oh, better not open that door! Gaghan is able to construct a world which seems normal, but feels wrong. While Abandon is not the creepiest thriller out there right now (consult The Ring for that distinction), it is perhaps the most intelligent. ****