Published Sep 19, 2011Based on the novel by Douglas Kennedy, and starring Ethan Hawke and Kristen Scott Thomas, The Woman in the Fifth follows Tom (Hawke), an American writer and professor who travels to France to reconnect with his estranged wife and daughter, only to get caught up in the seedy Parisian criminal underbelly, his only refuge being Margit (Scott Thomas), a muse who lives in the fifth arrondissement.
There are a lot of assumptions in that opening sentence, so let's clarify. How do we know Tom is a writer? Because his wardrobe is exclusively black turtlenecks and thick Buddy Holly glasses. How do we know he's trapped in a Parisian criminal ring? Because the crime boss is Arabic and wears gold chains that burrow into this thick chest hair. How do we know Margit is a muse? Because she chain smokes and prances about saying femme fatale things like, "You don't know what you're capable of, you have a voice; I believe in you!"
Suffice to say, this psychological thriller is a mishmash of borrowed ideas and derivative character devices inter-spliced with the occasional imaginative scene. The relationships, particularly between Tom and Margit, feel forced, lacking depth or meaning, making it hard to care when everything goes tits up.
I'm not sure director Pawlinkowski actually had a clear vision, or can even articulate what this film is about, because there are so many plot holes, unfinished scenes and time fillers that his efforts amount to nothing more than sloppy storytelling. What kind of organized crime is Tom exactly involved in? Why exactly was he hospitalized? Did he actually help solve the case at the end or did he cause it? And furthermore, why should we care?
What's needed is a re-shoot of several scenes, a tighter edit and a clearly defined story before Film 4 should seriously consider releasing The Woman in the Fifth for a wide release in. Because as of right now, apart from Ethan Hawke's performance, which is a theatre of emotions and raw passion, this film is an awful shame. (Film 4)