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

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

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

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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