[box cover]

Abandon

Katie Burke (Katie Holmes) is an undergraduate at an elite university who is learning what pressure really means. She's overcome an unhappy childhood to become an outstanding student, but she's still working on her senior thesis and hoping to be recruited by an elite firm, where the competition is tough. What's worse, her former boyfriend — eccentric, wealthy artist Embry Larkin (Charlie Hunnam) — has gone missing. His absence disturbs her, and she's even more disconcerted by the investigating officer, Det. Wade Handler (Benjamin Bratt), a determined cop who will turn over any stone to discover if Larkin has bolted town without warning or is just plain dead. Thus, when Larkin turns back up in town and starts harassing Katie, she realizes she has to turn to Handler for help — a move that soon causes her to fall for the handsome sleuth who's a charming fellow, but also an isolated, recovering alcoholic. Abandon is the directorial debut of Stephen Gaghan, a prolific TV scribe who hit it big by penning Steven Soderbergh's Traffic. He's the man behind the screenplay as well as the camera on this project, and it comes as some surprise that the writing, not the direction, is the weaker half of the sum: Abandon is a good-looking film with dark, moody art direction, and Gaghan resists wide shots throughout, normally using tight interior compositions to underscore the story's fragmentary themes. The script is fragmentary as well with an asynchronous approach that jumps through different time-periods to tell Katie's story, and for the most part the device is well handled. Gaghan clearly put a lot of thought in to the movie, but where it finally stumbles is with its characters and pacing. Holmes is pretty and appropriately sullen, but too often she's bland, almost a cipher. Bratt is better, bringing an earnest intensity to his part, but he has no chemistry at all with Holmes, and it's difficult to accept the idea of the ace student and the brooding cop forming a romance. Meanwhile, Charlie Hunnam as the now-returned Larkin is such an arrogant asshole that's it's hard to understand what Katie saw in him (and perhaps still does), making us like her character even less. We never really get to know the leads (for the sake of the "twist" ending, it would seem), and without that, the narrative thread is far too slender to engage. And as for the ending, if you're looking for it, you'll probably see it coming a mile away. However, if your interest in the film has lagged, the final 10 minutes of time-shifting revelations probably will seem a bit confusing. Paramount's DVD release of Abandon features a good anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with audio in Dolby Digital 5.1 or Dolby 2.0 Surround. Features include a commentary with writer/director Gaghan and director of photography Matthew Libatique — a track that's more consistently interesting than the film itself, as the pair talk freely about the filmmaking process. Also here is the featurette "A Look at the Dark Side: The Making of Abandon" (22 min.), six deleted scenes with commentary, and the trailer. Keep-case.
—JJB



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