'Abandon' smart, subtle
By David Germain
Friday, October 18, 2002 Posted: 4:30 PM EDT (2030 GMT)
(AP) -- "Abandon" is valuable on two fronts. First, as a quiet, sneaky little film that hypnotically creeps across the screen, with an intelligence and restraint that make it a satisfying change from the typical blunt-instrument-to-the-head approach of most thrillers.
Second, as the film that announces the arrival of Katie Holmes as bankable leading-lady material and Stephen Gaghan -- an Academy Award winner for his "Traffic" screenplay -- as one of those ambidextrous types who may prove as good at directing as writing.
Holmes, best known for TV's "Dawson's Creek," has had memorable supporting roles in "Wonder Boys" and other big-screen projects. With "Abandon," Holmes demonstrates dimension and complexity that could nudge her toward the front ranks of Hollywood's young actresses.
Gaghan's smart, subtle screenplay provides the first-time director with a framework for a slow build of brooding tension and understated chills. The intricate plot livens up the whodunit format by adding the puzzle of who done what?
The twist at the end of "Abandon" is no big surprise, though Gaghan tosses in enough red herrings to keep viewers guessing a bit.
The film credits the story as "suggested by" Sean Desmond's novel "Adams Fall," in which the campus protagonist was a male student haunted by the suicide of his freshman roommate.
Gaghan makes his lead character a woman, Katie Burke (Holmes), an ace finance student slowly coming unglued amid her thesis, job interviews and a growing certainty that her brilliant but fickle boyfriend Embry is shadowing her after running off and leaving her an emotional wreck two years earlier.
Toss in traumatic girlhood recollections of abandonment by her father ("I love you. You can't come with me," were the last words her father uttered), and Katie's a basket case in the making.
Benjamin Bratt co-stars as police detective Wade Handler, a recovering alcoholic investigating Embry's case. Wounded souls Katie and Wade commiserate to the point that romance sprouts, but an air of menace follows as Katie has a couple of confrontations with the jealous Embry (Charlie Hunnam).
Gaghan deftly wrings suspense from this threesome, compounding the scenario with some unusual suspects -- a puppy-dog pal (Gabriel Mann) who goes missing after professing his love for Katie, a mousy yet ominous library aide (Melanie Jayne Lynskey), a campus therapist (Tony Goldwyn) with a lustful eye on Katie -- who may or may not have anything to do with the mysteries in her life.
As Katie's best buddy, Zooey Deschanel ("The Good Girl," "Almost Famous") again proves a winsome, endearing second banana. Like Holmes, it's time for Deschanel to graduate to some lead roles.
Cop territory is nothing new to former "Law & Order" co-star Bratt, who brings depth and introspection as the somber detective.
Hunnam, soon to appear in the title role of "Nicholas Nickleby" adaptation, never gets much chance to be anything beyond pretentious and condescending as Embry. But he manages that well enough.
Gaghan authentically captures the sky-is-falling compulsions all good students endure as the semester's end approaches, spicing it up with the labyrinth of mystery and fantasy Katie finds herself tumbling into. With nocturnal cinematography and cloistered set design, "Abandon" makes the most of the inherently foreboding nature of libraries, dorms and other campus monoliths late at night.