Tenderness review

Crowe can’t let it go…

“Nobody gets to escape their pain,” intones Russell Crowe at the start of this quietly bleak, Raymond Carverstyle study of lives in limbo. He would know. His dogged Detective Cristofuoro is retired, but can’t put behind him a previous case where he put away a teen who killed his own parents. He’s also struggling to process a tragedy in his marriage.

The object of his obsession, Eric (Jon Foster), is about to walk free after a perfunctory sentence, but remains locked in battle with his own compulsions. He’s befriended/ stalked by damaged-goods 16-year-old Lori (Sophie Traub), who’s trying to evade abuse and boredom. Will anyone escape their pain as Eric and Lori embark on a road trip with Cristofuoro on their tail?

Emil Stern’s screenplay may be intriguing but it betrays its literary origins with some clunkily poetic, often jarring lines. Would a grizzled cop really brief colleagues by telling them that a killer enjoys “the last beautiful sigh in his hands”? You can practically see some of this stuff written on the page. And the supposedly devastating resolution lacks real surprise for any viewer looking for red flags along the way.

Luckily, Clint Eastwood’s lenser Tom Stern is on hand to gloss these glitches with some eerily beautiful photography of crumbling upstate New York locations which, together with a haunting soundtrack, creates a strange dreamlike quality that reflects the characters’ emotional stagnation. Director John Polson knows how to ratchet cheap tension (Swimfan, anyone?) but here he allows it to build languidly.

That doesn’t give Crowe much to do – and to his credit, Old Bolshie tones down his more theatrical impulses to disappear in subtle characterisation. He works little more than a dismal moustache, oatmeal jumper and exhausted walk to portray a man consumed with a mission he doesn’t want – leaving the quicksilver Traub to scene-steal to sombre effect.

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