When Eric Poole (Jon Foster) is released from a juvenile detention centre where he has spent three years for the murder of his parents, he moves in with his aunt (Laura Dern). Eric soon finds himself the target of unwanted attention when Lori (Sophie Traub), a young girl with a fascination for the macabre, deliberately tracks him down and ingratiates herself in his life. He reluctantly takes her along on a long drive to meet up with Maria (Alexis Dziena), a mystery girl he briefly met inside. But Eric is also being hounded by Detective Cristofuoro (Russell Crowe), a veteran cop who's determined to prove that Poole is not the repentant boy he seems to be.
Review by Louise Keller:
A psychopath, a juvenile and a retired cop are central to John Polson's new film Tenderness, which tells about three troubled characters who struggle to forget, while trying to live in hope. Based on Robert Cormier's novel, this is an unusual film about obsession and one in which mood plays a pivotal role. In the opening scenes we are told there are two kinds of people: those who chase pleasure and those who run from pain. But pleasure and pain walk hand in hand here, and our opinion regarding the identity of the stalker changes as the film progresses. The mood that Polson creates is a little like walking into a thick mist and finding yourself lost in the fog. Perhaps we get a little too lost within, but much of the film is engrossing, as are the performances.
Made in the same year as Body of Lies, Russell Crowe plays a cop who is treading water in his painful life. He is unable to do anything except cling to his pain. The reality of today is the hopelessness of his situation with a comatose wife, while yesterday is simply a reminder of how life used to be. We feel his pain as he sits beside his immobile, hospitalised wife, watching videos of her in happier times. His insular Detective Cristofuoro is obsessed and uses his obsessively tidy nature to tidy up unsolved crimes. It's as though he is trying to prove there is possibility in the impossible. Central to the story are Jon Foster's psychopath Eric Poole and the obsessed 16 year old Lori (Sophie Traub), whose own life is rather twisted. Eric, while struggling with his own instincts is trying to forget, while Lori is the girl who remembers things that would be best forgotten. Their relationship, the unusual way in which it begins and progresses, is the film's most intriguing story strand.
The tension is palpable, especially at the beginning, when we have no idea where everything is going to lead. It would be hard to find three more different characters, yet they each have much in common. We are curious about them all, but some of the questions raised fail to bring satisfactory answers. Exceptional editing and use of music allow Emil Stern's adaptation to the screen to be both ethereal and tangible, and it is not until the very end that the answer to a key question is revealed.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Director John Polson's friend Russell Crowe takes the unglam support role of a semi retired cop in this thriller adapted from a novel, in which a young man slips through the system - by dint of his youth - after brutally murdering his parents. Indeed, it may be a politically motivated story, in which the author wants to make a point about the weakness of the criminal system. There are other elements, though, such as the questionable mental state of the 15 year old girl, Lori (Sophie Traub) who is fascinated by the tenderness the murderer seems to display towards his female victims.
This is a fascinating study, but the adaptation struggles to get the story across with as much punch as it might. On the other hand, John Polson shows a lucid eye for the genre, and puts the screenplay to best use as a starting point for exploring the characters who inhabit that world. Russell Crowe's understated characterisation of Detective Cristofuoro is given traction by the constant reminder of his comatose wife. Sophie Traub builds a fascinating Lori, fleeing from an unhappy mother/boyfriend arrangement, drawn to the newly released Eric (Jon Foster), whose story she has followed in the papers, clippings and notes filling her diaries.
Foster is edgy as the barely controlled psychopath, and we are teased as the filmmakers gradually piece together the jigsaw so when we see the whole picture, the pieces do fall into place.
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CAST: Russell Crowe, Laura Dern, Sophie Traub, Jon Foster
PRODUCER: Howard Meltzer, John Penotti, Charles Randolph
DIRECTOR: John Polson
SCRIPT: Emil Stern (novel by Robert Cormier)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Tom Stern
EDITOR: Andrew Marcus, Lisa Cheno Zurgin
MUSIC: Jonathan Goldsmith
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Mark Friedberg
RUNNING TIME: 101 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Hoyts
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: April 30, 2009