Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Woman in the Fifth (2011)

When I list my favorite actors, I'm not sure Ethan Hawke would ever  come close to cracking top ten or even possibly top thirty, but I will say that he has made more interesting film choices throughout his career than just about anyone; George Clooney and Matt Damon might be the only two big name actors that do a much better job, but they also have a lot more clout backing their decisions. I'm assuming Hawke is not getting anywhere near the choices they are so kudos to him for continuing to take chances on these intriguing roles and projects. Even the studio driven roles he chooses from last year's creepfest, Sinister, to something like the remake of Assault on Precinct 13 (which only gets better over time) have a lot more interesting aspects to them than say the latest Ryan Reynolds or Bradley Cooper big budget adventure. In fact, one could argue that Hawke should be getting the Reynolds and Cooper roles, but let's all be thankful instead he's choosing to try out films like the one I am reviewing today.

The Woman in the Fifth is a captivating thriller from director Pawel Pawlikowski. I'm not even sure if thriller would be the correct genre to place it in because it is by no means your typical one. Hawke plays Tom Ricks, an American writer, who arrives in Paris to be closer to his daughter while also trying to get around the restraining order his ex-wife has placed on him. We know that he has had some issues in the past that probably revolve around a violent nature, but the film is not very quick to give us those answers.

Shortly after arriving in Paris, he falls asleep on a bus and is awoken to find that almost all of his belongings have been stolen. He is left with a few Euros, his passport, and a stuffed animal that he has purchased for his daughter. He finds shelter at a local cafe where he is given a room if he will provide a service for the owner. He is to sit in a small room every night in front of a screen that shows the outside of the building. Whenever someone comes up and asks to see Mr. Monde he is to buzz them in.

Tom starts up affairs with two very different women in the movie - a cafe waitress played by Joanna Kulig and a mysterious recluse played by Kristin Scott Thomas. Both women provide interesting predicaments for Tom that move the plot forward, especially Scott Thomas, who's final outcome I'm still not sure I completely understand, but color me intrigued.

You see, very little happens in The Woman in the Fifth, but at the same time so much is captured on screen. I haven't even touched on the strange book club party that Tom attends; this is where he meets Scott Thomas. Pawlikowski almost seems to be observing the events much like a documentarian would but for a fictional narrative film; he lets the film breathe in all the right places and knows just when to pull back to peak our interest and urging us to keep on moving forward to see what happens.

Hawke is a tad understated which gives the performance all the more rich texture that it needs to work; Scott Thomas is exceptionally good as the mysterious stranger that likes to give hand jobs without kissing (that scene really has to be seen to be believed but both Scott Thomas and Hawke are so good in it); I didn't realize I missed seeing Scott Thomas in movies before this. I can't even remember the last film I saw her in.

I know I've also made it sound even less like a thriller with my description, but I really don't know what else to call it. There is a mystery at the center of the film; one that I'm still not sure is really answered. The ending is where I have a bit of  a problem because I just wanted more answers in regards to the Scott Thomas character. There is also a murder subplot that gets wrapped up in a confusing matter, but in the end I was so moved and intrigued by everything that came before it's very easy to give these minor inconveniences a pass. Good stuff all the way around.

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