Review: 'Tomorrow You're Gone' A Stylized Neo-Noir That Goes Nowhere Slowly

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by Gabe Toro
April 5, 2013 11:00 AM
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It’s exceptionally strange to be reviewing a film so soon after the passing of Roger Ebert. Surely he’s the reason why most of us write reviews, why we’ve ever felt the need to tap our keyboards once the end credits begin to roll. We love and admire the deep thinkers who favor academic readings of film, but we really want to be Ebert, brimming with humor and personality, able to succinctly describe the most complex concepts for audiences of all persuasions. I wonder exactly what Ebert would have made of “Tomorrow You’re Gone,” a low-budget, low-temperature noir with direct-to-DVD production value, but nonetheless hitting movie screens this Friday.

It’s both a testament to his lack of condescension and the film’s somewhat intriguing tone that had the film reached Ebert, his approach would be fair, likely measured. He’d probably comment on the well-worn nature of the plot, involving a career criminal freed from jail and out to right some wrongs, some of which may be metaphysical. It’s difficult to describe exactly how much of “Tomorrow You’re Gone” exists in this bitter, faded thug’s head -- one character is almost assuredly a figment of his imagination, though everyone refers to him as being flesh and blood. Ebert would have summed up that dichotomy much clearer, probably with a good joke.

The thug is named Charlie, and he’s played by a down-and-out Stephen Dorff. It’s peculiar how Dorff now bears a strong similarity to Christian Slater, as both have played a series of short stature tough guys in forgettable B-and-C pictures now, their career arcs almost impossible to distinguish. But while Slater has merely aged well, his skin tightened and his frame sleeker with added years, Dorff’s facial features have deepened, become more intense. He’s always been more youthful than his age, but his latter day wrinkles have character without being too distracting. He’s hit that leading man sweet spot, where you don’t stop and consider how old he must be, but you know he’s old enough to have experience, and young enough to crave more. His skills have limits, but they’ve been mined for depth either in genre junk like “Brake” and arthouse fare like “Somewhere” to suggest a coagulated sense of loss and pain, like a hose frozen over in the winter. Observing his facial features in “Tomorrow You’re Gone” is a lot like running your hand over a slip of sandpaper.

There’s a familiarity to one-note Charlie, as Dorff isn’t given much to play other than violent and regretful. That’s only magnified by Michelle Monaghan’s turn as Florence, a hooker with a heart of, y’know. Monaghan is trying on an audaciously ridiculous Southern accent, but she manages to maintain her dignity as she speaks a number of eyebrow-raising lines that her contemporaries wouldn’t go near. As far as token seductresses go, she at least gives hints of an inner life; there’s a sense in her attachment to Charlie that she’s lived a life of regrets, but those are feelings left for an older age. Ebert would have provided a clever noir analog to these performances, most likely.

There are only five legit roles in the film, the rest filled with mostly non-verbal extras, which is a surprise considering you’re expecting Charlie to bust up a few stuntmen on his way towards fighting his inner demons. The biggest name is the cast is probably Willem Dafoe, who plays a Mabuse-like crime boss named Buddha, but his interaction with Charlie just distracts from the hero’s personal journey. When Charlie leaves prison, one of his first pleasures as a free man is soaking in the tub of a ratty motel, but the neighbors loudly argue through the wall. We’ve seen this set-up before, but we’ve never seen the hero quietly stew, attempting to ignore it as the scene’s sound design suggests a trip into hell. When he finally finds the courage to bang on the wall and demand quiet, he’s shouted down by a booming voice, sinking further into his greasy bath. Once Buddha shows up moments later, with Dafoe essentially rehashing Norman Osborne, it gets the “plot” moving, but it’s a far less interesting transition.

Most of “Tomorrow You’re Gone” moves incredibly slow for a ninety minute movie. Some of it allows for moments of introspection, like a visit to an empty church as Charlie and Florence discuss religion, Charlie’s agnostic approach emerging from a life spent watching good faith die. And some of it is just filler, an attempt to flesh out a familiar story of bad guy tropes. It’s an admirable sense of patience for a mock-hard-boiled tale scored mostly by moody nu-blues. Perhaps it’s a nice change of pace, a palette cleanser after something a bit more strenuous, shot through unbearably inky shadows that suggest a void about to swallow the entire endeavor. Or perhaps you’ll view it like Ebert, and your mind will wander to questions about logistics, specifically how this is another crime film with absolutely zero cops, a prostitute in a poor area with no worries about cash, and a plot development that involves someone tied up for days and rescued later with no ill effects. The initial desire is to claim this is a stylish film with the illusion of substance. Perhaps ol’ Roger, with his endless optimism, would have seen a bit more. [C] 
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