In a clean break from his occasionally successful biopic habit, director John Lee Hancock returns with an original screenplay and a plunge into the “dark side of America”. By the end, his protagonists find only misery and nihilism; so too the viewer, but not for the intended reasons.

Denzel Washington plays a former LA homicide whizz haunted by his inability to solve a particular case. When Washington comes into the orbit of his old department at the same time as an emergent serial killer, swish new homicide whizz Rami Malek brings our hero onto the case. After some vague build-up and exactly one uninteresting false suspect, the duo alight upon an only slightly creepier-than-usual Jared Leto and pursue this convincing lead to the end—leaving the viewer very few narrative crumbs via which to get involved.

Hancock dutifully focuses on how grisly the murders (of, yes, young women) are and throws in some timeworn tropes. His mode here is obvious and carried off with zero feeling or panache. There isn’t a single memorable frame or use of colour or sound, and moments of tension are unearned and disconnected.

The actors, meanwhile, are left floundering. Washington has found a way into his character that elicits some natural empathy, but you can almost see him straining to make the dialogue work. Ditto Malek, who is doing something almost avant-garde in his clipped angularity and would shine in something wilder. (Here, he comes off actively badly.) And ditto Leto, who is kinda good but becomes an awkward late fit into an already awkward dynamic. Ultimately, nothing clicks together in this lazy and under-motivated simulacrum of a cult detective film.

Ultimately, though some elements, including a thoughtful climax, are almost on their way to being interesting, there is simply nothing working to make this worth enduring.



CAST: Denzel Washington, Rami Malek, Jared Leto, Chris Bauer, Michael Hyatt, Terry Kinney, Natalie Morales

DIRECTOR: John Lee Hancock

WRITER: John Lee Hancock

SYNOPSIS: Kern County Deputy Sheriff Joe Deacon is sent to Los Angeles for what should have been a quick evidence-gathering assignment. Instead, he becomes embroiled in the search for a serial killer who is terrorising the city.