Dir: Bille August.Den-UK. 2004. 103mins
Like some fine wines,director Bille August doesn't seem totravel well. A universally admired European master for Cannes Palme D'Orwinners Pelle The Conqueror and Best Intentions, he has beenrather less admired for such ropey English-language international ventures as TheHouse Of The Spirits and Smilla's Sense Of Snow.
Set in the American dustbowl, Return To Sender is a low-key, unremarkable Death Row thrillerfrom the James Bond team of screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade. August'shandling is thoroughly professional but there is little to distinguish thisstandard genre fare that will seem awfully familiar to most audiences. Theabsence of surefire draws in the cast signals modest theatrical prospects atbest.
Following in the wake ofrecent Death Row thrillers from The Life Of David Gale to Monsterand Last Dance, Return To Senderlargely avoids the moral debate on the death penalty issue to concentrate onJohn Grisham-style twists and turns in the plot.
Frank Nitzche (Quinn) is adisgraced Texas lawyer who once specialised in defending Death Row inmates.Now, he makes a dubious living trading in the final correspondence of convictedkillers. His latest victim is Charlotte Cory (Nielsen going the de-glamorisedCharlize Theron route).
Convicted for the abductionand murder of a baby, Charlotte is now days away from death by lethalinjection. Nitzche has won her confidence by falsely claiming to have known herlate father. They have struck up a trusting and potentially lucrativecorrespondence. Now, Nitzche breaks his cardinal rule of never meeting thekiller, heading to Oklahoma for a face-to-face encounter with Charlotte.
Fans of Grisham or thecountless legal eagle thrillers that populate airport bookshops will havelittle trouble second guessing where this might be heading. You suspect Frankwill become involved in the case, his nobler instincts will be aroused by asense of injustice in the making. He might just discover evidence that thepolice and defence attorney Susan Kennan (Preston) have overlooked. Perhapsthere might be a race against the clock to prevent the execution taking place.Your suspicions would be well founded as all of this comes to pass.
Seeking to counteract themelodrama of the plot, August adopts a self-effacing directorial style thatquietly serves the story and observes developments. His one flamboyant touch isto indulge a dream sequence in which Charlotte and Frank display the agility ofcontortionists as they make love between the bars of her prison cell.
The performances are equallydiligent with Quinn characteristically dependable as Frank and Nielsen takinganother opportunity to extend her range as the steely, bedraggled Southerninmate who has more to lose than she cares to admit. Kim Basinger hair, tattoosand a hefty smoking habit go some way to disguising the actress's naturalrefinement.
Prod cos: Moviefan Scandanavia, Audley Films, No9Films
Int'l sales: Intandem Films
Prod: Michael Lunderskov
Exec prods: Stephen Woolley, Paul White, Gary Smith
Scr: Robert Wade, Neal Purvis
Cine: Dirk Bruel
Prod des: Viggo Benizon
Ed: John Scott
Music: Harry Gregson-Williams
Main cast: Connie Nielsen, Aidan Quinn, Kelly Preston, Tim Daly