Hardboiled noir play-acting doesn’t get more sluggish than in Tomorrow You’re Gone, a leaden tale that blurs the line between reality and delusion in ways less intriguing than simply confusing. Before being released from prison, tattooed goon Charlie (Stephen Dorff) gets a coded letter from his mentor/benefactor, the Buddha (Willem Dafoe), that tells him that another man “needs to be killed.” Once out, and given a bag stocked with cash and a gun by the Buddha, Charlie completes that bit of business, though that task is only accomplished after Charlie has also picked up Florence (Michelle Monaghan) on a city bus and gone back to her place to sit around and watch the lesbian porno movies in which she stars. Much of this haphazard drama is shot by director David Jacobson (working from a script by Matthew F. Jones, based on his novel Boot Tracks) with smeary effects that are meant to replicate Charlie’s gauzy psychological haze. Yet real or imagined, the largely indecipherable action is turgid throughout, moving at a lethargic pace that never builds suspense or surprise, but does emphasis the banality of Jacobson’s genre imitation, which, via the unconvincing Dorff, involves much furrowed-brow brooding and Southern-accented gruffness.
“You don’t wanna be with me in no kinda way,” grumbles Charlie to Florence, but she ignores him because, as she asserts later on, “I love you sumpin’, Charlie.” Amid such affected redneck romanticism, the film meanders about in search of direction, failing to generate mystery from its bits of randomness—highlighted by the perplexing sight of Charlie dragging a dead goat out of the street—and obvious visual clues suggesting that Florence is a figment of Charlie’s screwy mind. Whether that’s actually the case is left open-ended by Tomorrow You’re Gone, which goes out of its way to be dully oblique, having Florence randomly appear and disappear in the frame (and sometimes emerge from behind Charlie’s head), and dropping meager references to Charlie’s childhood traumas (which seem to be his murderous motivation). The only thing unequivocally true about the film, however, is that it’s a momentous slog marked by one-note performances by Dorff and Monaghan, whose brusque and seductive turns, respectively, are copied from the same out-of-print noir textbook. As for Dafoe, his ghostly role largely keeps him off screen, though when he tells Charlie, “Compassion paves the way to the gas chamber,” it does come off like unintentional encouragement to mercilessly slam these misbegotten proceedings.