Somebody is watching in “Wicker Park”

Ted Pigeon

One positive thing that can be said of “Wicker Park,” given its conventional plot elements, is that it avoids reducing itself to a generic thriller. However that is about the only positive thing that can be said of this movie. Director Paul McGuigan instead opted for something a little more risky in the way of character drama, but sadly, the result is no better than if it were just another cheap suspense thriller.

“Wicker Park” is about sexual obsession, but at no point is there any feeling of that conveyed. The film so desperately wants to get us inside the minds of its characters to feel their passion and rush of emotion, but gives us no reason to care about them, all of which become increasingly less believable as the muddled story develops. And since character believability is the only hook this shaky movie has to rely on, it just caves in on itself.

The film’s plot is presented in a non-linear fashion; it starts somewhere in the middle of the story and inter-cuts important flashbacks with scenes happening in the present. Josh Hartnett plays the central character, Matthew, whose life is dramatically changed when he thinks he sees his former love from long ago, Lisa (Diane Kruger), who mysteriously disappeared from his life. The film opens on this surprise note and we are then taken into the past and shown how he initially met her and fell in love with her. As we see these memories of her develop, Matthew does everything in his power to try to find her again.

McGuigan is careful not to reveal too much in the film’s first hour. He wants to keep the audience disoriented before he unveils the whole story, which eventually comes to involve Matthew’s best friend Luke (Matthew Lillard) and the woman he’s seeing, Alexis (Rose Byrne). The rest of the film contrasts Matthew’s newfound obsessions, from seeing Lisa again with his initial attraction to her when he first saw her.

The first half of the movie has characters following each other around, breaking into unknown apartments and hotel rooms and sleeping with random people. After that, a non-stop series of coincidental moments keeps them from getting what they want, which is the screenwriter’s way of telling us that he’s fresh out of ideas.

So the movie drags along for two lifeless hours and generates little to no interest in any of the characters, making the experience of watching this movie an exercise in rising boredom.

The out-of-sequence method of storytelling employed here doesn’t work at all because it is merely a crutch for the screenwriter to maintain interest in an otherwise uninteresting story. It’s only the flimsy plot device that holds the movie together before it completely comes apart and takes a leap into absurdity.

The production values are also a failed attempt to build on something that isn’t there. The split-screen editing, atmospheric photography and low-key score are admirable in and of themselves, but a good production can never compensate for a movie that has such a shaky foundation.

When the story finally reveals the true nature of its characters, we are revealed the true nature of the movie, and that is one of utter stupidity and insignificance. The slow loss of interest building as the movie develops finally culminates in an ending scene that wants to be so important but doesn’t resonate on any level, much like the movie as a whole.

Everything is there that’s supposed to be there, everything except the feeling. And since the movie is so indulgent and wants to be taken seriously, there is a tremendous backlash so that the scene has the opposite effect that it should have. In short, most people who see it will probably be holding back laughs, not tears. It’s easy to fault the actors for the movie’s inability to create feeling for them, but there’s not much an actor can do with a poorly drawn character and a carelessly written screenplay.

The key to a successful psychological film is how well it can connect us with the innermost thoughts and feelings of its characters, regardless of how complex the emotion we’re supposed to feel. “Wicker Park” wants to be taken as a work of psychological depth, but when the most fundamental and important part of a movie, the screenplay, is so badly conceived and executed, the movie is doomed to failure.

And as this film goes on attempting to involve us deeper in the minds of its characters, it gets progressively more ludicrous and is ultimately incapable of conveying any real feeling when we are shown that nothing is really there. The end product is a disjointed and hollow mess packaged neatly in a slick-looking production.