Director: Bette Gordon
Cast: Josh Charles, Julia Stiles, Avan Jogia, Tacie Thoms, Leo Fitzpatrick, John C. McGinley, Robert Clohessy
Running Time: 1:35
Release Date: 5/10/17 (limited)
Review by Mark Dujsik | May 19, 2017
The Drowning is both a psychological thriller and a mystery that revolves around the psychology of one character. As a thriller, the actions of the movie's characters rarely make sense. As a mystery, it's founded on psychological insights that seem sketchy, primarily because the screenplay has to hide the central point to keep the mystery going. Since we don't buy the characters' actions, we can't accept the plot's internal logic, which means we can't stand the constant delaying of putting together the story's underlying puzzle. It's like a house of cards standing on a one-legged table that's being propped up by another house of cards.
Based on Pat Barker's novel Border Crossing, the screenplay by Stephen Molton and Frank Pugliese gives us a lead character who's a psychologist whose curiosity turns him into an amateur detective of sorts. The question is whether he's worse in his actual job or his accidental one. The one thing that's certain is that he could probably use a therapist himself.
He's Tom Seymour (Josh Charles), a child psychologist whose extensive work in criminal cases has led him to writing a book the subject. He's still writing and ignoring almost everything else, which results in vacillating responses from his wife Lauren (Julia Stiles), depending on whether or not there's conflict from some other character in the story at the moment (She's mad at him when the plot starts to get stale, and she desperately wants to have his child when he's otherwise distracted by other things).
The story opens with the couple taking a walk by a lake near their home. They spot a young man standing at the edge of the water shortly before he intentionally falls in. Tom races to the water, dives in, and, after struggling with the drowning man, pulls him to shore.
Upon returning the man's jacket to him at the hospital, Tom discovers that he knows this young man. He has since changed his name, but when he was Danny Miller (Avan Jogia), he was a patient of Tom's. When he was 11 year old, Danny was convicted of murdering an elderly woman. Tom's evaluation of the boy was key to Danny's conviction and incarceration.
He's currently on parole after a glowing recommendation from the prison's warden, and Danny's parole officer Angela (Tracie Thoms) wants Tom to be Danny's therapist. She—and, it seems, everyone who meets Danny—believes that the young man is "special." If he could just get some help, Danny might stand a chance of making something of himself.
Tom balks at the idea, and then he spends the rest of the movie alternately repeating his balking and going to extraordinary lengths to do the thing he constantly says he doesn't want to do. As he reveals to the prosecutor (played by John C. McGinley) who oversaw Danny's case, Tom's thinking is that he might have gotten it wrong. Maybe Danny, who continues to say that he's innocent, shouldn't have been incarcerated.
This thought process might work as the driving force of the plot, save for one significant issue: Because it also wants to be a thriller, the movie presents Danny as a character who clearly is not to be trusted. It's not simply what we see from him, either. Tom sees his sort-of patient's behavior, which includes stalking Tom and Lauren, and believes that Danny is a threat to himself, his wife, and anyone else who has done or may do him wrong—either real or perceived.
He tries to keep Lauren from being friendly to Danny, who keeps "coincidentally" bumping into her in town, but Lauren thinks it's just an extension of Tom's jealousy issues. While a simple explanation of who the young man really is could solve a lot of problems, Tom is maintaining a promise to the parole officer not to tell anyone about Danny's real identity. Again, this agreement is dependent on the fact that Tom is Danny's therapist, which, again, is a role he continually denies.
None of this makes much sense, and the screenplay's later revelations about the truth of Danny's character (all of which is information that Tom received first-hand when he was the kid's therapist, mind you) only make Tom's actions more incomprehensible. The Drowning ambiguously suggests that Tom's own issues are the reason he's drawn to Danny, but those issues are only vocalized in a context that vaguely makes some sense during the overblown but poorly defined climax (before becoming the foundation of an epilogue that comes from even further out of left field). The whole affair is a head-scratcher of bloody-scalp proportions.
Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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