Gone From My Mind, by Tyler Smith
David Jacobson’s Tomorrow You’re Gone is a very strange film. Strange in that it doesn’t seem to exist. Like it didn’t happen. It’s like some sort of weird anti-movie in which characters do things and events occur, but none of it coalesces into anything. I didn’t really care about what happened to the characters while I was watching and, when it was all over, the movie evaporated from my mind.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t good elements in the film. Jacobson clearly has a talent for establishing an uneasy, claustrophobic tone. And Stephen Dorff as our lead character is completely committed. And Willem Dafoe is always a welcome sight in a film. But these elements never add up to anything notable.
The story is pretty basic. Dorff plays Charlie, a man just released from jail. He is immediately approached by “the Buddha,” a low level crime boss that helped him out while he was in prison. He offers Charlie money to kill a man, which Charlie accepts. He carries out the hit, only to find that the man’s girlfriend saw the whole thing. He ties her up and leaves her alone, unwilling to kill anybody he’s not supposed to. This doesn’t sit well with the Buddha, who pressures him to go back and finish off the girlfriend.
Throughout it all, Charlie pursues a relationship with Florence, a good-natured woman convinced that, underneath the tough exterior, Charlie has a good heart. Charlie is torn about going back and killing his victim’s girlfriend, but he feels obligated to the Buddha for the help given in the past.
Okay. So, we’ve got a conflicted criminal that owes a debt he doesn’t want to pay to a ruthless crime boss. Nothing we haven’t seen before. And the tone of the film is very stark and stripped down, trying to remove all the frills of what is at its core a very pulpy story. When it comes right down to it, we’ve really got the makings of a nice little modern film noir here, like a Red Rock West or One False Move.
Unfortunately, the director doesn’t seem to know what to do once the plot is set up. We get one scene after another of Charlie and Florence trying to feel each other out, with minimal dialogue. We get strange flashes of Charlie’s dreams and endless discussion about them. We get weighty scenes inside a church, in which Charlie asks what God ever did for him. And so forth.
In the end, it feels like a short film padded out to feature length. We get a little bit of character exploration, but not much. We aren’t really allowed to know anything about Florence or the Buddha. Only Charlie, and he is not a very dynamic character. He is quiet and dour, which doesn’t make for the most engaging protagonist.
Imagine our surprise, then, when Florence proclaims her undying love for him. We’ve been given no indication that these two even really like each other, and we have absolutely no reason to believe that she could fall in love with so blank a character. We’re not helped by Michelle Monaghan, whose performance seems to begin with a Southern drawl and end with an earnest look. There is nothing to the character and even less to the performance, so the fact that we have to spend so much time with this woman already makes this film tiresome.
There are moments when we see what the film could have been. We see Charlie and Florence buy a vintage car and listen to oldies as they drive towards their fate. Several scenes take place in smoky bars with a rough-and-tumble clientele. And Willem Dafoe imbues the Buddha with a quiet dignity in what few scenes he has, giving an air of mystery to the character.
Unfortunately, all these flashes of style fall by the wayside so we can focus on the lifeless internal exploration of a lead character that we don’t care about. And, while I’m all for movies examining the emotional and spiritual consequences of living a violent life- Unforgiven being a good example- Tomorrow You’re Gone seems to confuse quiet reflection with dull repetition. It starts to go deep, but not so deep as to keep us interested. Just enough for the director to feel that he is doing something very thought-provoking indeed.
The film’s ambitions are noble and not easy to accomplish. Questioning genre tropes within a genre film can be very risky, but can pay off big if done well. Tomorrow You’re Gone does not accomplish this, however. It aims high, but falls flat.