Director: Julio DePietro (DÃ©but)
Screenwriter: Julio DePietro (DÃ©but); Ford Madox Ford (novel, The Good Soldier)
Cast: Alexis Bledel (Post Grad, The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants), Bryan Greenberg (Bride Wars, Prime), Scott Porter (Dear John, Bandslam)
Length: 1 hour 30 minutes
Synopsis: Narrated by slick Wall Street trader Tommy (Porter), the film shows how his life goes from perfect to depressing in a matter of six weeks.Â During that time, Tommy works on his relationship with new girlfriend Beth (Bledel) who works as an urban conservationist and leads a book club with her friends.Â Tommy also coaches his sensitive coworker Daniel (Greenberg), an ex-soldier, on both dating and trading.
Analysis: In his first outing as both a writer and a director, Julio DePietro updates Ford Madox Fordâ€™s 1915 novel The Good Soldier.Â Though the original text tells the story of a seemingly gentlemanly young soldier who turns out to be a liar, in DePietroâ€™s film, a smooth and handsome Wall Street trader named Tommy becomes the filmâ€™s narrator.Â While DePietro takes little from the original story, he does retain the most interesting aspect of Fordâ€™s work: the exploitation of conventions of narration.
The film begins with Tommy standing in the rain outside Bethâ€™s apartment begging for cab fare after he loses his wallet.Â She reluctantly brings him the cash only to return to Daniel who waits upstairs.Â Tommyâ€™s pathetic state coupled with his proclamation that the scene is the end to the worst day of his life, places the audienceâ€™s sympathy squarely with him.Â As the film then flashes back to six weeks earlier, the audience believes Tommy is the Good Guy of the title.Â Typically in films with narrators, the character recounting the story is assumed to be trustworthy, thus sympathy for Tommy is immediately established.Â Through this set up, DePietro subverts expectations.
Many of the filmâ€™s early scenes seem to support the argument for Tommyâ€™s goodness and Danielâ€™s badness.Â Tommyâ€™s willingness to help Daniel, a man whom the audience knows will later steal his girlfriend, paints him as a caring friend whose kindness is the means of his own destruction.Â In the meantime, Daniel is coded as the Bad Guy in a number of ways.Â First, their boss suggests Tommy will eventually regret nurturing Daniel when he becomes too ambitious and tries to take his job.Â However, more important is a scene involving Bethâ€™s book club.Â Daniel, a seemingly harmless and sensitive book-lover, joins the club just when they are about to read The Good Soldier.Â Daniel was himself a soldier and just after Beth explains that the novel is about a seemingly sensitive soldier who turns out to be a lying cad, DePietro holds the camera on Danielâ€™s uncomfortable expression suggesting he is in fact like the novelâ€™s lying protagonist.
However, as the film progresses, Tommyâ€™s goodness becomes less and less convincing.Â He excels at his job because he is selfish and dishonest and it soon becomes clear that his version of events may be exactly that â€“ a modified retelling in which he paints himself as the victim.Â Perhaps the most interesting example of this comes when Tommy and Beth have dinner with Daniel and Bethâ€™s friend.Â While Daniel and Beth trade shy glances across the table, Tommy continuously eyes a beautiful woman on the other side of the restaurant.Â The scene serves two purposes.Â First, it offers the first inkling that Tommy may not be what he claims.Â Second, it makes the budding romance between Beth and Daniel inescapably clear.
The scene suggests DePietro has made a film that is both depressingly cynical and fiercely romantic.Â The slow revelation of Tommyâ€™s true nature offers the filmâ€™s cynicism and the characterâ€™s progression is handled believably.Â Meanwhile, Beth and Daniel provide the filmâ€™s romance.Â Each interaction reinforces their affection, and the aforementioned scene in particular suggests that they are meant to be.Â During the scene, Daniel helps Beth decide if she wants to leave New York for a better job.Â His desire to keep Beth in New York and her hidden desire to stay because of Daniel permeate the scene and it becomes clear that their level of communication is what makes them fit together. Â However, the relationshipâ€™s one weakness is how fast it develops.Â The fault does not lie with Greenberg and Bledel, who actually share very palpable chemistry, but with the brevity of their onscreen interactions.Â DePietro foregrounds Tommyâ€™s development over Beth and Danielâ€™s emerging romance, thereby lessening its effect.Â Had more time been spent fleshing out all the characters and not just Tommy, DePietro might have a stronger film.