Misconduct reminds me of the type of erotic thrillers made in the wake of Basic Instinct. The kind of sexy Hitchcockian pastiche Brian De Palma has always done so well. Unfortunately, Misconduct lacks some of the technical finesse, and most of the lurid charm and guileless gusto that makes the aforementioned films so exciting.
Ben Cahill (Josh Duhamel) a young married attorney on the rise is willing to cut corners to get ahead. Especially if he can convince himself the other side is "bad" and deserves it. Arthur Denning (Anthony Hopkins), is a wealthy aged pharmaceutical executive with a seemingly limitless amount of power and money. They share a common connection with a young beautiful woman named Emily (Malin Akerman) who may be crazy. When Emily is kidnapped for ransom it's unclear whether she's the victim or the perpetrator. She had approached Cahill and gave him information on Denning along with a story that she's being mistreated. This gives Cahill the motivation and justification to go to the head of his firm, Charles Abrams (Pacino) with an "idea" for a lawsuit against Denning. Cahill's wife Charlotte (Alice Eve) is getting tired of his lack of integrity. Their relationship is already strained due to opposing work schedules and a lost baby. Unclear loyalties turn all relationships potentially dangerous and power-play manipulations pose as negotiations or gifts. Intrigue builds and mysteries unravel… or so it should be.
Here what substitutes for genuine twists are characters suddenly doing things that aren't congruent with how they've behaved previously in the film. Judging from the behind the scenes interviews, this is the type of script that reads well in Hollywood these days. I can only presume because plot reversals are fun and they keep the reader mentally engaged. It also gives actors the freedom to play more than one kind of character in the same movie. However, on screen when narrative shifts have no connection with the characters or the story it could not be less interesting and makes all other positives in the movie nearly null and void. None of the characters are particularly well drawn or well observed. They seem to be created more as plot devices than exhibiting any human qualities. Cahill's friend Doug serves no purpose other than poor attempts at humor and to speak expository information that someone on the production felt was important for the audience to know. In their first scene together, Doug tells Cahill: "You have been a machine for over a year now. I know you and Charlotte have had a devastating few months but billing one hundred hours a week is not going to help you get through that. It's not gonna help you make partner and it's not gonna make your wife happy." Blah Blah Blah.
There are some positives to report. Visually director Shintaro Shimosawa and director of photography Michael Fimognari make distinct choices. No one can say this film is a case of standard coverage 101. At least here we have filmmakers with cinematic ideas. Even with this less than stellar material to work with, this elevates the film. It's stated in the promo pieces for the film that Shimosawa was most inspired by the Edward Hopper painting Nighthawks. That look comes across in the film and sets a visual tone of loneliness and alienation. For example, in a seductive scene, a man and woman are together kissing, then as the camera tightens up we find him alone. The camera pulls back tracking along his eyeline for the other character, never finding her although we still hear her disembodied voice. There were also some striking editing choices made, one that stands out is when Cahill is sitting next to his wife on the couch apologizing for not spending more time with her and then suddenly in a direct cut she is still on the couch, now framed in a doorway, but he is gone, leaving her alone and boxed in. This is a motif that is repeated more than once: two characters are together and then one character is mysteriously alone in the frame even though someone was just there seconds ago. In addition to this, they shoot stylized Antonioni-like establishing shots that feature beautifully empty architecture that is devoid or at least indifferent of any human life.
Somehow despite having a known cast there are fifteen producers on the film, sixteen if you count the line producer, which could be partly responsible for my feeling that this film is workshopped or has too many cooks in the kitchen. I assume from the interviews this film was financed and cast through the strength of having Anthony Hopkins and Al Pacino on board. While Hopkins and Pacino indicate the script was interesting to them, probably what was most interesting was how well it paid and how few days of shooting they were required. This seems to be an unfortunate reality of the process by which far too many middle budget films are made these days.
Video: Aspect Ratio is 2.40:1 and the disc is locked for region A. The colors have a greenish cast which I believe is an intentional look. Some scenes are timed very dark and a few lack the edge light or backlit highlights to make out clear silhouettes although overall the images were clean with very deep blacks. The green cast, odd framing and flat stylistic tracking camera kind of reminded me of Chan-wook Park's Old Boy in a good way.
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio with optional English and Spanish Subtitles. Also has English Subtitles for the hearing impaired. I noticed nothing remarkable about the sound though nothing negative either. It is professionally produced and all dialogue, effects and music are balanced and clear.
Package and Extras: The disc won't let you skip the trailers before the main menu page! C'mon give us a break Lionsgate, what is this, videotape? &@#$ you! Misconduct comes in a standard case with a slip cover using matching cover art. Standard promo pieces, three deleted scenes, trailers.
• The Making of Misconduct (15:08)
• Deleted Scenes:
- Ben Suspects Doug (1:57)
- Ben Calls Giffords (:34)
- Denning Fires Clemente (:54)
• Trailer (2:18)
Although Misconduct has some of the makings of a satisfying pulpy movie the story doesn't add up to anything original nor does it fully deliver on the nasty bits. Ideally, in movies driven by suspense or twists, those shifts still need to feel fundamental to the material. Just look at The Sixth Sense or The Usual Suspects or anything Hitchcock did. Here we have twists for the sake of having them and there's not enough visual sensationalism to be mindlessly engaging.
Despite making strong visual choices, which I greatly respect, the film doesn't go far enough for my tastes. I like my sleazy cinema waaay sleazier and I expect clever stories to be considerably smarter. This project is both too demure and too cliché. I think the filmmakers wanted this film to be classy and for that approach to work needed to make bolder story decisions and in this case would have benefitted from a little more time baking in the story oven. Stylistically, it kept me on board for the first thirty minutes or so, but by the end when it completely goes nowhere and falls to pieces I was left feeling bored.
Rating: Rent it.