Young college student Katie (Katie Holmes) is under a lot of pressure. She is working hard to complete her thesis while interviewing for prestigious jobs for when school is finished. Meanwhile her wealthy former boyfriend, Embry (Charlie Hunnam), went missing over two years ago and the police are taking a renewed interest in the case.
I am not going to say the story isn’t flawed, but it has enough going for it that it is worth seeing, provided that you are in the mood for a pretty close character study with a convoluted psychology and a haunted atmosphere. The pacing is slow and the timeline is broken enough that you're given the interesting points of Katie and Embry’s relationship interspersed as we go along.
Katie is strung taut and nervous and you can pretty much sense the tension under the cool exterior even if she is just sitting in front of her computer working on her interminable thesis in the smallest possible cubicle in a deserted corner of the stacks of the library. She understands her own situation well enough to seek professional help in the form of a therapist.
When detective Wade Handler (Benjamin Bratt) shows up and starts asking questions about Embry the past obviously gets stirred up for Katie, who subsequently begins seeing Embry everywhere. There are hints of The Inferno, in the books stacks, in Embry’s play, and in a way it makes sense to see this as a labyrinthine nightmarish hallucination of Katie’s from beginning to end. You could take that comparison all the way to Polanski’s Repulsion (1965) if you like, though this is nowhere as strong, or as alarming.
Still, that noir atmosphere, the beautiful cinematography, and the haunting music definitely makes this something closer to a study in a fracturing psyche than an actual thriller, despite there being a body count. Also, the pacing is not disciplined enough for it to be particularly scary.
Mousey Julie (Melanie Lynskey) actually gives the very best description of Katie within the story. She describes the coltish frailty of Katie and how men in her path just want to take care of her and make it all better. There is just something about Katie, apart from her beauty.
Detective Wade falls for her, as do her therapist and her best friend Harrison (Gabriel Mann) and the talent scout for the prestigious firm in New York she interviews for, but Embry is the only one she has truly loved in return. Embry’s eccentricities and spoiled rich boy behaviour degrades slowly into the sadistic as the flashbacks fade and the present day asserts itself, even if both timelines are introduced simultaneously. There is definitely something wrong about all this, and the viewer senses that early on.
The question is mostly just how big the wrong is, and who has the preferential right of interpretation on reality. I’m not giving the ending away, though. That would spoil the game. The dialogue is smart, the students actually really study and the characters are fleshed out enough that they don’t seem like cartoon cut-outs.
But the suspense is actually the weakest part of this movie. We are given an ending that attempts to explain and also foretell what is going to happen next with Katie, but personally I think that’s probably the least interesting part of the story.
This is the first film Stephen Gaghan wrote and directed, so it can be interesting for that reason alone. Still, good performances, nicely structured visuals and a clever score means this has something to recommend it, even if you might not feel all the way satisfied once it’s over.
Abandon (2002) is directed by Stephen Gaghan and stars Katie Holmes (Katie), Benjamin Bratt (Wade Handler), Charlie Hunnam (Embry), Zooey Deschanel (Samantha), Fred Ward (Lieutenant Bill Stayton), Gabriel Mann (Harrison Hobart), Gabrielle Union (Amanda), and Melanie Lynskey (Mousy Julie).