Friend 2: The Legacy
Nolan (Paul Walker) rushes his wife, Abigail (Genesis Rodriquez), to a hospital in New Orleans because she's in labor, albeit five weeks before her expected delivery date. She dies while giving birth to their prematurely born daughter who must put in a ventilator to survive. The stakes escalate when Hurricane Katrina arrives, stranding Nolan alone with his daughter in a hospital room as flood waters rise. Without electricity, he has to crank a generator to keep the ventilator on for a maximum of 3 minutes each time. His food supply runs very low with only some candy and a little deli meat that a hospital employee graciously gives to him. The clock is ticking as his chances of survival diminish every minute.
Writer/director Eric Heisserer has written a lean thriller that takes place in primarily one location with an actor who must carry the film's weight on his shoulders. For the most part, Paul Walker does a commendable job of carrying that weight convincingly. Those of you who are familiar of him from the Fast & the Furious blockbusters will be especially pleased to know that he has some range as an actor. Here he finally gets the chance to cry, and he does so without hamming it in; no other film besides Hours has given him an emotionally meaty role before, so kudos to the casting director for taking a risk that pays off so well. To say that Paul Walker gives the best performance of career is no hyperbole.
Aside from Walker's performance, Hours also has some palpable tension to offer and it maintains it for the most part, with the exception of a few scenes that drag. Yes, there's a sense of monotony as Nolan repeatedly struggles to look for help while going back to the hospital room to crank the generator, but that monotony is something that Nolan experiences as well, so you share that sentiment with him along the way. Although this isn't technically a horror film, it does have horror elements given how tragic and frightening it victims' circumstances are. The villain, in this case, happens to be Hurricane Katrina. Roger Ebert once wisely stated that every horror film should give its victims some kind of hope of survival, otherwise it's like watching a man jump off a building with only 1 possible outcome: hitting the pavement. Fortunately, Hours has pockets of hope for Nolan, so it that escalates the suspense even further. Flashbacks and visions of Nolan's wife do seem a bit awkwardly juxtaposed with the other scenes, but that's a systematic problem that could easily be forgiven.
Delilah (Natalie Zea), a phone sex operator from Los Angeles, develops an unexpected romance with one of her clients, Samson (Jeffrey Vincent Parise), a writer with writer's block. Their conversations aren't the typical sexually-charged ones; Samson prefers to role play all kinds of scenarios from the distant past, i.e. Budapest circa 1914. He even asks her for her own role playing fantasies and persuades her to risk her job by calling him at a designated time. The more they converse, the more feelings they have for each other. Meanwhile, Delilah's roommate/co-worker, Ginny (Lindsay Hollister), has yet to find out about her secret phone-affair with Samson.
The screenplay by Peter Lefcourt, based on his stage play, takes its time to become fully absorbing, but once it does, it doesn't hold back. There's much more to Delilah and Samson than meets the eye; does it really matter if they met on a phone sex line? Maybe, maybe not. Both seem lonely and have an emotional void that they need to fill which they do whenever they converse on the phone. Loneliness and emotional neediness are universal feelings that many people have all around the world these days, especially given how alienating modern technology is. Despite all the talking, you don't learn much about their past or their family life for that matter, yet there's still something engaging about them as characters----you want to know more about them as the film progresses. At times, the film does feel somewhat stagy, but not as much as it could've been because the scenes showing their role-playing fantasies heighten the cinematic aspect.
The convincingly moving performances by Jeffrey Vincent Parise and Natalie Zea help to add some additional depth. Most importantly, kudos to Peter Lefcourt and director Terri Hanauer for providing the audience with a romance that respects its female protagonist without over-sexualizing/objectifying her. Fortunately, Sweet Talk doesn't spiral out of control with convoluted subplots like most films do nowadays; it remains focused on the relationship between Samson and Delilah from start to finish. The third act fits well with the rest of the film and its ending, which won't be revealed here, feels equally believable, honest and provocative.
Trap For Cinderella
Micky (Tuppence Middleton), a young woman, awakens in a hospital after surviving an explosion at her countryside home. Suffering from amnesia, she struggles to remember what led to the fiery explosion and other crucial details from the past. Her childhood friend, Do (Alexandra Roach), died in the fire. What really truly happened that night? With the help of the assistant (Kerry Fox) of her aunt (Frances de la Tour), Micky slowly reconstructs the past events and tries to make sense of it all, leading to revelations and twists that won't be spoiled here.
Every great mystery/thriller should equally clever, fun, intriguing and suspenseful. Writer/director Iain Softley already knows how to make a competent film in that genre, case-in-point: The Skeleton Key. Trap For Cinderella, based on the novel by Sébastien Japrisot, looses its momentum as the twists start piling on top of one another. Flashbacks after flashbacks after flashbacks make for more of a frustrating and exhausting experience than a diverting one. Flashbacks are also a way of spoon-feeding the audience info and, in some cases, hitting them over the head with it without trusting their intelligence.
The film does have potential, though, at least initially because the first 20 minutes or so feel quite intriguing and make you wonder in which direction the film will be going. Once you can figure it all out, especially after the 10th twist, you might wish you'd seen a far more clever and effective thrillers about someone suffering from amnesia, i.e. Memento or even The Long Kiss Goodnight. Tuppence Middleton gives a decent performance as does Alexandra Roach and Kerry Fox, but without a nutrient-rich soil (a.k.a. a well-written screenplay), they don't get a chance to truly shine or to rise above the material. If this were the Golden Age of Cinema, Trap For Cinderella would most likely be the second part of a double-feature, also known as a B-movie, and a very forgettable one at that.