Misconduct (2016)



Shintaro Shimosawa helms the dull Misconduct, a quasi-legal thriller that somehow features a gangbusters cast. On paper, things are exciting. This 2016 endeavour stars Josh Duhamel, Alice Eve, Malin Åkerman, Julia Stiles, Byung-hun Lee, Anthony Hopkins, and Al Pacino. The names alone ought to be cause to slobber, but Shimosawa’s film is a mess.

The screenplay by Adam Mason and Simon Boyes is a clunker and the trouble starts early when characters rattle off lines like “I need you to stay as calm as ice.” The music by Federico Jusid thunders away like it’s trying to urge the sloooooow Michael Fimognari shots to get on with things. And Shimosawa, who co-produced the American remake of The Grudge, lumbers through the paces.

Duhamel stars as lawyer Ben Cahill. He’s married to nurse Charlotte (Eve), who puts in long shifts at the hospital. One day, an ex-girlfriend named Emily (Åkerman) reaches out to Ben and wants his help. She’s been dating the powerful pharmaceutical executive Arthur Denning (Hopkins) and she’s discovered something about his nefarious practices.

Emily is abducted and Denning goes to Jane (Stiles) for assistance because he won’t go to the feds. Ben’s senior partner (Pacino) is primed for the case and tells the lawyer to make sure he gets a nine-figure judgement. There’s a lot of wrangling and scheming and corruption, plus there’s an Assassin (Lee) hanging around to keep everyone in line.

Foundationally, Misconduct tries to position itself as a John Grisham-ish thriller. It pits Duhamel’s Cahill against the well-off Denning in a battle for the ethical ages, but it also has the decency to paint the good guy with some dubious features. Early on, he tells an associate that “it’s not cheating if the good guy wins.”

Unfortunately, all this ethical fluctuation gets lost in a jungle of exposition and Misconduct tries to do so many things that it practically spins on its axis. The story sidesteps any ethical explorations and rumbles through a shadowy set of circumstances that would make even the most convoluted of films noir blush.

Aesthetically, Misconduct is curious. Consider an early scene in which Hopkins’ character punches someone out. Jusid’s pummelling score rumbles, while Fimognari’s lens eases out of the building and up to the skyscraper-laden skyline at a snail’s pace. Or consider a later moment in which the slowest zoom in the world works its way toward Eve as she makes a Key Realization.

The movie’s audio-visual incongruity isn’t helped by its lack of character coherence. Pacino delivers every line in a debilitated drawl, Stiles is adamant and then forgotten, and Hopkins sleepwalks as though he’s expecting Joe Black to wander down the stairs. That’s to say nothing of the hard-hitting fetish held by Åkerman’s character, by the way.

As for Duhamel, he’s tasked with leading the charge and remains uninteresting in all the wrong places. The former Tad Hamilton doesn’t bring any pathos and any conjectural twisting of the knife at the hands of fatale Emily is rendered futile by sheer lack of substance.

In better hands, this soupy plot could’ve turned into something akin to a B-grade film noir. There are dead bodies and corporate overlords and limousines and dark alleys galore and the groundwork is in place for an amusing tale. But Misconduct is too lethargic and dense to move out of its self-inflicted shadow world, landing squarely as one of the most uninteresting wastes of talent in recent memory.

And honestly, that’s sad. Pacino and Hopkins still amount to considerable cinematic coinage. Eve and Åkerman and Stiles enjoy enough gravitas to light the marquee. And Duhamel may have the personality of a wet sheet of paper, but his underwear model stare is still something to hang a convex plot on. Right?


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