John Polsons Tenderness (adapted from Robert Cormiers novel) has an unfortunately apt title: it soft-peddles both as a police procedural and a cat and mouse thriller, with only the moody portrayal of Jon Fosters disturbed central character holding the attention.
Its him who invests the film with what degree of complexity it has, offering a chillingly plausible representation of a youthful killer who struggles to control his urges, and is also cursed with the awkwardness early adulthood brings. How refreshing it is as well to have an actor not channelling Hannibal Lecter in order to play a violent psychopath. His Eric Poole was locked up at a young age for murdering his parents who, earlier, had witnessed him kill a young girl.
Russell Crowe is the dogged cop Cristofuoro, who sees his nemesis released after a perfunctory sentence (why is never explained, leaving a credibility gap at the centre). Believing Poole desires to kill again, Crowe takes to the road, leaving behind his bedridden wife, little realising that an abused, obsessive teenager, Lori (Sophie Traub) has joined up with his killer.
Top lining the cast-list, Crowe is somewhat sidelined by Fosters infinitely more complex and haunting portrayal, with the nagging realisation being that his story strand could have been cut out altogether in favour of a complete focus on the lost soul at the storys centre. Not only is Cristofuoros compulsion lacking vitality due to sketchy background detail, but the decision to outfit Crowe with an 80s moustache and succession of woolly jumpers renders him one of the least interesting cops to grace our screen in a while. Crowe is always best in demonstrative, macho roles; here, hes reined in. Even his hardboiled slivers of narration feel like leftovers from Humphrey Bogarts dustbin. On the plus side, Traub convinces in an underwritten part where emphasis on body language and mannerisms become paramount in suggesting a fractured psyche.
Yet even the more promising appetisers, like Eric and Loris increasingly twisted relationship and Erics battle with his compassionate side, are cast into the wind simply because not enough information is given about either character. The performances convince in spite of a screenplay which doesnt, one that feels both predictable and annoyingly vague. Consequently the climax is especially puzzling since it proposes to build to a shocking moment of revelation, when in fact one struggles to see what the surprise was in the first place.
Overall Verdict: Worth watching for commendably difficult turns from Foster and Traub and some slow-burning atmosphere, but Tenderness is sadly undercooked in all other areas.
Filming Tenderness: Bringing the Novel to the Screen
Reviewer: Sean Wilson