x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Red Lights starts strong, but telegraphs its ending

This paranormal thriller has plenty of intrigue but as the mystery unravels, so does interest.

Robert De Niro, left, plays the blind psychic Simon Silver who decides to come out of retirement. Joely Richardson plays Monica Hansen and Toby Jones plays the parapsychologist Paul Shackleton in Red Lights. Courtesy Gulf Film
Robert De Niro, left, plays the blind psychic Simon Silver who decides to come out of retirement. Joely Richardson plays Monica Hansen and Toby Jones plays the parapsychologist Paul Shackleton in Red Lights. Courtesy Gulf Film

Red Lights
Director: Rodrigo Cortés
Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Robert De Niro, Cillian Murphy, Elizabeth Olsen
***

The director Rodrigo Cortés is clearly attracted to high concepts. Last time out, he made Buried, in which Ryan Reynolds played the only character in the whole movie - an American construction worker trying to escape from a coffin after being buried alive in Iraq.

Cortés's new film is set in the world of psychics and paranormal activity. Tom (Cillian Murphy) and his boss Margaret (Sigourney Weaver) work as university academics who, outside the classroom, expose psychic Svengalis as a fraud. Then comes news that the blind psychic Simon Silver (Robert De Niro) is going to come out of retirement after 30 years. Tom sees an opportunity to prove that the legendary psychic is a fraud, but Margaret has been burnt by the soothsayer in the past and warns against trying to expose Silver. Could this be because Silver is the real deal?

It's all very promising at the beginning. The relationship between Tom and the psychologist Margaret is more maternal than professor and assistant. The conversations between them and the discussion of their personal motivations and demons are intriguing.

De Niro revels in the role of an acknowledged master of his art, able to live off his reputation, but who may now be revealed as nothing but a ham. It's one of his finest performances in recent years, but given that he's mostly been playing a Focker, that may be less exceptional than it sounds.

The secondary characters don't add much to the plot and contribute some of the fat that eventually weighs down the action. The parapsychologist Paul (Toby Jones) as a rival academic is too easily fooled to be anything but a bumbling moron. The low point of the movie is when he's duped at a card trick because of the reflection in his spectacles. The current acting flavour of the month Elizabeth Olsen is surprisingly forgettable as a lab assistant and romantic interest of Tom and the Submarine star Craig Roberts is criminally underused as one of Tom's student protégés.

The inspiration for Cortés seems to be the non-Batman films of Christopher Nolan, most noticeably Prestige. Slowly but surely, everything that seems to be true at the outset is turned on its head. The major problem with this thriller is that the twist, when it comes, is so telegraphed and trite that it's more laughable than revelatory. Despite some great moments and set pieces, it's a film that thinks it's cleverer than it actually is.