Violent teenager Eric's path intertwines with Lori, a 16-year old runaway who cannot resist his charm. Lieutenant Cristofuoro (Russell Crowe) sets out to unravel Eric’s complicated past.

Russell Crowe stumbles through lifeless thriller.

Contrary to the title, there is nothing tender about Tenderness, Australian director John Polson’s third US-financed film following Hide and Seek and Swimfam. A psychological thriller adapted from Robert Cormier\'s novel about a jaded cop’s efforts to stop a troubled teenager killing again, the film lacks tension, and there’s scant reason to empathize with the characters or to care what happens to them.

Russell Crowe’s presence might attract some initial interest, but Rusty virtually sleep-walks his way through the movie as Lieut. Cristofuoro, who spends all his free time caring for his comatose wife. He’s on the trail of Eric Komenko (Jon Foster), who’s released from juvenile detention in Buffalo, New York, on his 18th birthday after serving time for the violent murder of his mother and stepfather. Driving towards Syracuse to hook up with a girl he met in prison, Eric is shocked to find Lori (Sophia Traub) hiding in his car. Fifteen-year-old Lori, who suffered years of sexual abuse from her mother’s boyfriends, displays a morbid fascination with Eric, for reasons that later become clear. Eric is harsh and cruel towards her, so it’s difficult to see why she grows infatuated with him; the normal person’s instinct would be to get the hell away.

Convinced that Eric is a psychopath who will kill again, Cristofuoro sets a trap for him. Asked by fellow cops why he’s obsessed with the kid, he gruffly replies, 'I got no family, he’s my hobby."

The mood is lugubrious, the pacing is tediously slow, and the screenplay by Australian writer Emil Stern is marred by wildly improbable moments, such as when the detective stumbles across the abandoned caravan where the runaway couple had been holed up in the middle of the woods. More to the point, is it even credible that a disturbed kid who killed his parents would be set free at the age of 18, without parole or any kind of supervision?

The title is explained, perversely, by the cop when he says of Eric, 'He\'s addicted to the intimacy of the kill, the last beautiful sigh in his hand.\" New York cops talk like that? Not, I suspect, in the real world.

Cristofuoro is a very introverted, melancholy and taciturn character — unlike anyone I can recall Crowe playing in the past — and the actor struggles to make him compelling or believable. I can only assume Crowe took the role as a favour to Polson, with whom he starred in the 1994 Australian film The Sum of Us.

Foster, whose breakout was The Door in the Floor opposite Kim Basinger and Jeff Bridges, and Traub (who had a supporting role in The Interpreter) are OK; the problem is it’s hard to figure out their characters’ motivations or to care about their predicament. Too little light is shed on Eric’s internal conflict and on why Lori harbours a death wish. Laura Dern is wasted in a brief cameo as Eric’s aunt.

Polson’s direction is perfunctory, as is Tom Stern’s cinematography. Who lives and who dies? At the end I wasn’t anxious to find out.


1 hour 41 min
Wed, 09/09/2009 - 11