A careful sense of intrigue buckles under the weight of a clumsy denouement
When troubled American writer Tom Ricks (Ethan Hawke) comes to Paris with aspirations to win back the love of his estranged wife and daughter, his plans unsurprisingly go awry. Things take an unexpected and increasingly sinister turn, however, when a chance encounter with a mysterious woman triggers a series of inexplicable events, the consequences of which could seriously threaten not only his family but also his sanity.
In spite of its swift runtime, Pawel Pawlikowski’s adaptation of Douglas Kennedy’s critically divisive novel of the same name is a strangely languid experience that ultimately fails to hit its stride. Pawlikowski admirably takes his time racking up tension by steadily drip-feeding a series of subtle red herrings. It’s an unusual approach for such a short ride, but things certainly start out promisingly enough.
Hawke’s understated performance as the bespectacled author unwittingly plunged in to the murky Parisian underworld commands attention from the off, as does the intriguing premise, which maintains a credible and often deeply unsettling sense of dread. Kristin Scott Thomas, meanwhile, turns in a typically alluring performance as the titular femme fatale whose sporadic appearances gradually begin to call in to question Ricks’ perception of reality.
But while the easy-does-it approach is regularly interrupted by mildly diverting thrills, these do little to waylay the perpetual sense of tedium and confusion that pervades much of the film. Thanks in part to a screenplay that steadfastly refuses to provide a sense of closure, The Woman in the Fifth builds to an indulgently ambiguous final act that ultimately undermines the masterful suspense that Pawlikowski spends so long labouring over with a disappointing and remarkably frustrating diversion in to the surreal.
Pawlikowski has been absent for a few years now. This could be interesting.
A careful sense of intrigue buckles under the weight of a clumsy denouement.
First-rate performances and occasional flourishes of tension can’t save this from being anything more than distinctly average workaday fare.