After trying his hand at the period piece, only to offer up the dead-on-arrival Young Goethe In Love, it's probably fitting that Philipp Stölzl returns to a more action-oriented setting. With his latest, the thriller Erased, the director attempts to recreate the kineticism of his promising 2008 film North Face, a work that made legitimately tense drama out of a rock-climbing contest gone horribly wrong, but winds up hewing much closer to the conventional imagination of his previous effort.
Starring Aaron Eckhart as Ben Logan, an ex-CIA agent and single father living in Belgium, the film traces that character's entanglement in an international scandal involving his former organization, a powerful European multinational, and a morally dubious plan to sell arms to warring African tribes. Supposedly hired by the Halgate Group as a security expert, Logan arrives at work one day to find the operation gone with no trace remaining; even his emails from the company have been deleted. With his daughter by his side, he digs deeper and finds the bodies of all his co-workers, all illegal immigrants, at a Brussels morgue. Meanwhile, representatives of the U.S. government and European private interests search for both him and a stolen document that incriminates Halgate.
It's a convoluted plot, but Stölzl manages to make reasonably clear the various intrigues he unfolds while keeping the action humming along at a reasonably gripping pace. Still, the film seldom pushes beyond the bare-minimum dictates of the thriller, only rarely offering up a memorable action sequence, as in an early scene in which Logan's struggling with an armed assassin in a moving car continues after the vehicle falls off an overpass and crashes. Similarly, attempts to humanize the conflict by zeroing in on Logan's efforts to improve his strained relationship with his daughter fall flat, largely because Eckhart's default mode is an unconvincingly expressed controlled outrage.
When Logan is called on to deliver a final moral denunciation against Halgate, all of the film's weaknesses come to a head. Eckhart's articulation of righteous indignation is no more compelling than his efforts to convey that same anger repressed, while the movie's decision to even include this condemnation of the company feels both dramatically unnecessary and too heavily invested in its thinly explored geopolitics. Essentially a paper-thin, unremarkable, but not unentertaining piece of semi-high-toned genre filmmaking, Erased has nothing to say about the way the world works that's at all worth taking seriously.