Ben Affleck stars in this twisty turny action thriller directed by John Frankenheimer and written by Ehren Kruger and it's not as bad as you may have heard. It's not as good, or clever, as it thinks it is but it's a mildly entertaining way to spend two hours and benefits from the presence of the gorgeous Charlize Theron being absolutely gorgeous.
The plot is as follows: Ben Affleck plays Rudy Duncan, a man imprisoned for stealing cars who is about to get his freedom. His cellmate (Nick Cassidy, played by James Frain) is also near the end of his term, five years. Nick has been developed a relationship with a woman who has been writing to him in prison and is looking forward to getting out and meeting her. But as the day of freedom approaches, tragedy strikes. When Rudy leaves the prison he sees the lady of letters (Ashley, played by Charlize Theron) waiting. After a few moments of wrestling with his conscience, Rudy jumps off the bus and runs over to her. He then introduces himself as Nick. What follows seems too good to be true. Rudy is happy, he's in the arms of a beautiful woman who wants to look after him and the only problem is the fact that he lied about his identity. That problem soon becomes pretty major when the happiness is spoiled when Ashley's brother (Gary Sinise) and his gang crash the party. They are planning to rob a casino and they know that they now have the man who can help them. At least, that's what they think. If Rudy comes clean then he's worthless to them and will end up dead but if he tries to keep up the pretence his options aren't looking as good that way either.
Starting with a bunch of dead Santas and then moving back in time, this is a movie that you know isn't necessarily going to end well for most of the people involved. Seeing that Gary Sinise has a gang that includes Danny Trejo, Clarence Williams III and Donal Logue reaffirms that notion. Yet, strangely, it never feels that tense and that's possibly due to the main role going to Ben Affleck.
Here's the thing, I am no Affleck hater (I'm about the one guy who enjoyed Daredevil, as flawed as it was, and I am happy to see him doing so well in his directorial career) but he just doesn't make this role work. He never seems worried, he's not all that convincing and he walks through the movie with that Teflon coating of a star that won't be unexpectedly killed off. I'm not going to spoil the film by telling you if that remains true by the very end of the movie but it certainly kills off the tension for the first 3/4 anyway. Thankfully, the rest of the cast includes those already mentioned (and did I remind you of how gorgeous Charlize Theron is?) and a delightful supporting role for the great Dennis Farina.
The direction by Frankenheimer is solid although with the film running at just over two hours you can't help thinking that a little pruning here and there might have helped. A better script from Kruger would have also helped. It's not THAT bad but it just doesn't hit the sweet spot required. The surprises aren't as surprising as they should be and the lines that are supposed to be cool sound like they were written by someone pretending to be Shane Black as opposed to, y'know, Shane Black. It's a shame that Kruger appears to have peaked so early in his career and has never come close to writing something approaching his work on the superb Arlington Road.
Thankfully, the performances carry this movie along for the duration. Affleck may not be great here but he's okay, which doesn't matter when time is given over to the great supporting actors anyway. Charlize Theron once said that this was her least favourite of all her movies but I think she was too harsh. It's not essential viewing but it has some nice touches, a bunch of great actors and a chance to bask in the glow of the gorgeousness of Charlize Theron (which you might recall me mentioning just two paragraphs above).