Film review: why 'Every Breath You Take' delivers despite its lack of originality

Starring Oscar winner Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan and Sam Claflin, the film deals with trauma in an authentically moving manner

Casey Affleck plays a psychiatrist who finds his life in turmoil following the sudden suicide of his patient in 'Every Breath You Take'. Photo: Vertical Entertainment
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Every Breath You Take is far from original.

In fact, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to guess the psychological thriller’s main twist at an early stage. But, despite this slice of predictability, there’s plenty to admire in its intriguing journey to a pedestrian conclusion.

Every Breath You Take opens with mother Grace (Michelle Monaghan) driving to hockey practice when her vehicle is shunted and her son dies. Three years later, Grace’s husband Philip (Casey Affleck) reveals he has used his own trauma and grief from this incident to aid his psychiatric treatment of the suicidal Daphne Flagg (Emily Alyn Lind).

When Daphne takes her own life after the murder of her best friend, her brother James (Sam Claflin) starts to integrate himself into the lives of Phillip, Grace and their teenage daughter Lucy (India Eisley). What initially appears to be relatively innocent soon starts to become dark and destructive, as James’s sinister actions cause Philip’s life and career to unravel.

The film's opening car crash is so poorly shot you’ll be left wondering how the collision happened, while David Murray’s script repeatedly lurches towards cliche. But, if you’re able to look beyond the happenstances that push the narrative forward, and focus on the film's themes and characterisation, there’s plenty to ruminate over.

Ultimately, the film is about how we all process trauma differently. Some take solace in their loneliness, others lash out, while there are those that embrace more Machiavellian methods to deal with the pain. Every Breath You Take doesn’t explore these subjects in a contemplative or even thoughtful manner, but there’s an authenticity to the characters and their struggles that shines through.

So much so that you can see why such an impressive roster of acting talent decided to sign up for Every Breath You Take.

Affleck’s Philip is internally wrought and beaten. As a result, the Oscar winner’s leading performance is probably much calmer and more softly spoken than you might expect, even as his life starts to spiral out of control. Monaghan is given more of an arc, as we see Grace go from guilt-ridden to revived, all of which she handles with aplomb.

It’s Claflin who has the most to work with. He never goes completely over-the-top as the enigmatic James, while there’s a charisma to his performance that makes him increasingly watchable.

All the while, director Vaughn Stein does a stellar job of slowly ratcheting up the anxiety, menace and mystery. There’s always just enough intrigue to keep you hooked, and he oversees some genuinely emotional and affecting scenes.

Despite Every Breath You Take’s solid foundations and potential, it’s ultimately held back because it follows the same predictable path of so many other psychological thrillers.

Yet, despite not possessing any real surprises, Every Breath You Take still manages to maintain interest. Its attempt at a nail-biting finale delivers some tension and audiences will at least feel satisfied by the time the credits roll. It’s just a shame that, with a bolder script and more inventive direction, the response could have been much deeper.

Every Breath You Take is in UAE cinemas from Thursday

Updated: August 24, 2021, 3:37 AM