Solace, the latest neo-noir police thriller from Afonso Poyart, has been called a cross between The Silence of the Lambs and Se7en. Anthony Hopkins stars as John Clancy, a doctor with psychic abilities who, in a sort of good guy role inversion of Hopkins’s Hannibal Lecter character, comes out of retirement to help solve a string of related murders. Gradually, Clancy learns that the serial killer, Charles Ambrose (Colin Farrell), is a clairvoyant himself—and a better one than Clancy at that. The challenge then becomes to predict the other’s movements before the other can predict his. In other words, it’s like Hannibal Lecter is chasing himself.
While the premise sounds interesting enough (and it’s certainly fascinating to see Hopkins invert his sinister character), I was disappointed in both the plodding pace and the hack visuals. (Solace’s so-called “grittiness” is nothing that can’t be reproduced with an Instagram filter.) The film also misses on the requisite neo-noir pseudo-symbolism—montages of crosses, a child with balloons, flower petals, a milk bottle breaking, a faceless woman in a red dress submerged in water. It’s so clunky you’d think you were watching a bad student thesis.
With a male-heavy cast, Solace seems to go out of its way to damn its female characters, especially FBI agent Katherine Cowles (Abbie Cornish). In one early scene, Clancy humiliates Cowles by psychically listing every man she has slept with, complete with visual flashbacks—even highlighting a love child she had given up for adoption. As this is essentially the only background we get on Cowles, it’s disheartening to see her entire character reduced to the sexual company she keeps. As for the other female characters in this movie, they’re all either dead—pictured in flashbacks as perpetually angelic—or punished simply for being alive.
Solace’s poorly written script undercuts any potential in its premise or cast. With the main twist revealed half an hour into the film, the remainder focuses on a second murderer with little relevance to the plot. The movie itself really only picks up steam in the last half hour—even though at that point it’s obvious where the story will end up.
I will say I enjoyed the psychic prediction sequences, in which the viewer sees all the possible movements one could make in a given space. It at least helps establish the possibility of multiple outcomes, even if the story line itself is rather predictable. But with nothing more than that to go by it’s hard to come out of the movie feeling satisfied.
The ethical question being raised throughout Solace centers on the idea of using death, or in this case murder, as a humane alleviation for great physical pain—“killing them with kindness,” as Ambrose calls it. This film could have benefited from such mercy. Stalled in Hollywood purgatory since it was written nearly 15 years ago, the script bounced around between writers and filmmakers before finding a home with Poyart. The presence of multiple inputs—too many cooks, if you will—is evident throughout in its structural and tonal inconsistencies.
Solace was originally pitched as a sequel to David Fincher’s serial-killer thriller Se7en (1995). When the cast and plot were announced, many pointed out its unmistakable similarities to The Silence of the Lambs. But Solace isn’t an extension or inversion, a sequel or a companion. It’s only itself—one of a kind—and that, perhaps, is the only solace we can find in it.
Photo: Everett Collection