Charlie Rankin (Stephen Dorff) has just spent four years in prison. Without the help of his mentor, William "The Buddha" Pettigrew (Willem Dafoe), he wouldn't have survived, and now that he's free, he knows he owes The Buddha a favor. He finds himself a place to stay by dropping The Buddha's name, picks up the cash, a gun, and some instructions from a train station locker, and he's all ready to head across town and wipe his slate clean when he runs into a beautiful young woman named Florence Jane (Michelle Monaghan), who invites him to her house to make him some dinner and show him a video she made as her alter ego. Head filled with thoughts about his new lady friend, Charlie botches the job, sending him into a strange spiral of guilt and unexpected compassion, all while an inevitable visit from The Buddha asking what went wrong looms on the horizon.
Adapted from the novel Boot Tracks by the author himself, Matthew F. Jones, and directed by David Jacobson, the helmer behind the 2005 Edward Norton thriller Down in the Valley, Tomorrow You're Gone is a pile of symbolism in search of a story. A glance at the Amazon.com page for the book reveals a significantly different story than the finished film, one where Charlie's mistakes are more clearly defined and his mental problems are more severe. Instead, this lackadaisical thriller wanders around in search of deeper meaning and never achieves it, getting bogged down in its own air of self-mysticism.
From beginning to end, the film is clearly trying to convey some sort of message about faith. Charlie acknowledges that The Buddha "saved" him in prison, but never explains further. Florence Jane plays a nun in her video. At one point, a character comments that both God and the Devil will appear the same at first. Each of the characters carries some sort of guilt that they hope to get rid of, whether it's the details of Charlie's botched hit or the double life that Florence knows she's leading. It all feels like it's gesturing toward some sort of overall message, but the screenplay and direction fail to pull the strings together into any kind of thematic message.
Although the three "above-the-title" credits are basically 90% of the movie's cast, the film still feels like a waste of a talented ensemble. The character of Charlie is written as closed-off and angry, but Dorff plays it straight enough that it's hard to like or sympathize with Charlie, who succumbs to obnoxious mood swings and continually refuses to open up to Florence. Willem Dafoe is barely in the movie, both literally and figuratively. He shares a couple of scenes with Dorff, but despite Dafoe's reservoirs of presence, he can't make The Buddha's influence linger through casual conversations filled with esoteric dialogue. Monaghan may be the most disappointing, however -- nary a shred of her magnetic personality shines through here, which is particularly baffling considering she helped produce the movie. Florence Jane should be an interesting and emotionally complex character, but the film doesn't let her do much but play second fiddle to Dorff's unlikable protagonist. Amazing how a character with so much screen time amounts to little more than "the girlfriend."
The overall experience of Tomorrow You're Gone is the sense that something is missing. Perhaps some sort of crucial scene was cut out, or some important details from the book were left on the cutting room floor, or my limited understanding of religion is preventing me from putting the film's symbolic puzzle together. Regardless, it's a drag to watch, wasting three skilled performers and a potentially skilled director on an overlong redemption story about a guy who nobody is rooting to see redeemed.
Tomorrow You're Gone arrives in a plastic-conserving Vortex Blu-Ray case, slipped inside a really nice looking matte slipcover, complete with a foil-embossed title. Why this lesson in Generic Direct-to-Video Action Thriller Cover Art 101 (high contrast, desaturated, unrelated promo stills, out-of-focus lights as backdrop) deserved such nice treatment is beyond me, but its niceness is indisputable.
The Video and Audio
Another day, another movie I wasn't a fan of that gets an immaculate Blu-Ray presentation. 2.35:1 1080p AVC and DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio are both very strong. The movie takes place in a laundry list of dark and dingy environments, and I strained and failed to notice any banding in any of these sequences. Detail is obviously razor-sharp from the first shot of Dorff's close-up face, with textures and patterns on clothes rendered with absolute precision. The sound mix is strong, with evocative environments and some good low end on car engines and thumping bar music, even though the movie is generally a dialogue film. Gunshots pack a powerful punch and the track lacks any of that "direct-to-video" flimsiness -- I actually haven't heard any in awhile, so maybe that's a thing of the past. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing are also included.
None. Trailers for The Numbers Station and Day of the Falcon play before the main menu. No trailer for Tomorrow You're Gone is included.
Tomorrow You're Gone doesn't gel, struggling to paint a picture out of all of its disparate pieces. Skip it.
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