Afonso Poyart’s Solace, despite its title, provides little in the way of comfort, as it joylessly coopts the hoariest stylistic tics and narrative tropes from any number of 1990s thrillers: flashy, surreal dream sequences; a killer’s meticulously twisted murder tactics; the tough, brainy female F.B.I. agent working alongside a shrewd yet irascible older man. (The screenplay, by Sean Bailey and Ted Griffin, was even initially picked up with the intention of being reworked into a sequel to Se7en, only for David Fincher to pass on the project.) Anthony Hopkins stars as John Clancy, a retired psychic drawn back into working for the F.B.I. by his longtime friend and partner, Joe Merriwether (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), and the plot follows the duo, along with Agent Katherine Cowles (Abbie Cornish), as they hunt down a serial killer, Charles Ambrose (Colin Farrell), who, like Clancy, can peer into anyone’s past or future.
Throughout, Agents Merriweather and Cowles function merely as pawns whose hackneyed, tragic backstories are unearthed by Clancy as in a parlor trick—simply to display to the audience the depths of his psychic powers. The real showdown is announced later in the film via yet another outdated narrative staple: the brooding face-to-face meeting inside a bar booth. Speaking to Clancy, Charles finally reveals the grander, more selfless motivations behind his killings, and in so doing, the misguidedness of the script’s philosophical musings on the nature of mercy and suffering becomes unmistakable.
Solace moves through beat after beat of familiar territory, ponderously evoking everything from the sinister intellectual murder games of Silence of the Lambs and Se7en to the mismatched protagonist pairings of Kiss the Girls and The Bone Collector. The film’s music cues feature an obnoxious mix of nü-metal and saccharine strings that are as manipulative as they are derivative, harkening back to a short-lived cinematic tradition that exemplified the worst tendencies of its era. And if the film’s ridiculous plot and paper-thin characters aren’t frustrating enough, its chaotic visual scheme, driven by reckless over-editing and aimless zooms, exudes a direct-to-video quality that renders the film practically unwatchable.
At the high point of the action, Clancy and Charles chase one another throughout the film’s unidentified city, mysteriously sharing visions of the potentially tragic endings that may occur to Cowles. In clichéd fashion, the two men ultimately find themselves facing off in a moving train, where Charles delivers a speech about the necessity of killing people inflicted with fatal ailments before they’re even diagnosed. After leaving Clancy with the near-impossible decision to either join in his outlandish crusade against suffering or risk letting an innocent person perish, Charles strikes a Scott Stapp-level Jesus pose that’s the perfect visual embodiment of the film’s incessantly empty posturing. Solace’s unwillingness to deal with the complex realities of trauma and affliction that the plot hinges upon wouldn’t be so offensive were the film not so flippant, repeatedly using cancer as a cheap plot device and a piece in the overall game Charles is playing with Clancy and the viewer.