There are movies that are just plain bad. There are movies that are just plain good. Then there are movies that fall into the crack between the two categories. “The Tall Man” is one of the latter, and it’s stuck in there so firmly that not even several gallons of baby oil and an army of cranes can fish it out.
Brought to us by Pascal Laugier, the little green hopping dude behind the pleasingly atmospheric “Saint Ange” and the ridiculously brutal “Martyrs,” “The Tall Man” is one of those movies that could have been an outstanding piece of work were it not for a deeply flawed script. The thing is full of holes, really big holes – the kind you could drive some sort of really large vehicle through. Yes, this time round Monsieur Laugier has delivered not a French Camembert, but a cheese that is, in the final analysis, undoubtedly and thoroughly Swiss. And since he wrote the script, he can’t even blame the writer by saying “I know, i know! Ze script she is bad from ze beginning!” No, this Swiss cheese is all the fault of the amphibian in question.
SPOILERS AHEAD – (Also, if you haven’t seen the thing you won’t know what the hell i am on about.)
The basic idea is this – a network of well-meaning liberals are kidnapping children from parents too poor to look after them, and then covertly adopting them out to middle class wankers who can’t have their own kids. Admittedly, this is a far-fetched idea, but it could have been a good exploration of how good people some times do bad things for good reasons. As it turns out, there really is not much exploration done beyond a speech given by the film’s primary protagonist, who is, strangely enough, not a tall man but a woman named Julia ; in a very well written – and well acted – one minute monologue, we are told that the system is broken, and that politicians and bureaucrats ( more like the plutocrats who own them, if you ask me ) get in the way every time do-gooders like Julia try to bring about real change in the lives of the poor. It’s quite an effective scene, but that’s about as deep as the movie gets.
Style wise this movie has nothing to be ashamed of. The cinematography, the music, the lighting, the camerawork, the sound design – all excellent. Even the acting is, if not great, then certainly adequate. I found the woman who plays the last kidnap victim’s mother especially good. A ragged, old-before-her-time pauper frantic over the loss of her son, she manages to stay just on the right side of overacting. “Pontypool’s” Steven McHattie is good but nothing special, mostly because his role as a flatfoot simply does not call for him to do anything special. Hell, even Jessica Biel does a fairly good job of the guilt-ridden, doe-on-the-run bit. She’s especially good during the aforementioned “the system is broken” monologue. The style and acting are fine – the thing that cuts this film down to size is the mish-mash of writing blunders.
Why the bloody hell does Julia stay behind to be captured rather than escape with her husband? The excuse we are given is that someone has to take the fall, “be the monster,” but this is bullshit. All that is required is that the authorities believe that the kids are dead. If she stays, they think, “She killed the kids and then we caught her.” If she runs they think, “She killed the kids, then we didn’t caught her.” See the common factor? Either way, the cops think the kids are dead, hence there is no need for her to stay. Perhaps Julia’s feelings of guilt are leading her to punish herself, but that does not make sense for someone so deeply committed to the enterprise. It would make more sense for her to protect the enterprise by running away, and then finding some other way to flagellate herself. As it is, she is putting everything in danger, precisely by staying. After a few years in jail – solitary yet, so that the other women don’t kill her – she is likely to start thinking that maybe it isn’t worth the hassle and that she should just tell the truth. While it could be argued that her guilt is getting in the way of her clarity, that cannot be said for her husband and yet he let her stay when he could have dragged her away. It’s a cheap trick, and i ain’t buyin’ it.
Then there is the couple’s assistant, a woman named Christine. Why the bloody hell does she kill herself instead of escaping when she hears the cop sirens?!?!?! There’s a bloody tunnel under the house, the one they have been using to spirit the kids away! Why doesn’t she use that to run off in the same direction as Julia’s husband? If the cops can find their way from the tunnel to the forest, so could Christine. Hell, unlike Julia she didn’t even seem to feel that guilty about her part in the entire debacle, yet here she is stringing herself up like a 140 pound hock of ham! There is only one reason i can see for this unlikely event – a cheap dose of pathos. And if it makes no sense, who cares? Not our maker of Swiss cheeses, apparently.
And above all, why the bloody hell did the doctor fake his own death?!?!? What the hell purpose does that serve, other than to allow us to go “Holy crap, he’s still alive”? None. It is a very clear case of extremely lazy writing, and an insult to the viewer’s intelligence. His wife didn’t need to fake her death to do her part, and neither did he. And if he loved the town so much, why would he desert it after it fell into extreme poverty? He wouldn’t. And yet he did…
There are other, smaller, holes in the cheese, such as the last kidnap victim’s mother’s lame excuse for not going to the cops when she finds out Julia has her son – she just don’t like them there coppers. How convenient. And how does she find out Julia has her son? Why, she sees her son through Julia’s window! Very careless of Julia, don’t you think? Yes, it’s another hole in the cheese! And why the hell does Julia realize the townsfolk are onto her when she sees her latest victim’s photo on the shrine in the diner office? If anything should have tipped her off, it was the nasty looks everyone was giving her when she came in! And if the shrine is so suspect, why did the woman who owns the diner tell her to go in there? And why, after kidnapping her son back, does the mother take him to a hideout rather than to the authorities? Oh, yes, it’s that convenient distrust of the police again! But if she distrusts the police why is she letting the sheriff know where she’s hiding with the kid? Is she not aware that sheriffs are quite often part of the police force? And why does the abandoned facility in which she lives have electricity! And how does Julia manage to send the mother flying with a punch delivered from a lying position? Is she Supergirl now? And what’s with that mysterious scene in which the Loch Ness monster makes a surprise appearance during the swimming carnival at the local YMCA pool?!?!? Okay, that last one i made up, but the other stuff is all-too-true.
It’s a low-down crying shame the way this movie turned out to be so much less than it could have been. It could have been excellent, it could even have been something of a classic, but alas no – “The Tall Man” may not be a midget, but it sure as hell ain’t about to make it in the NBA, neither.