Jules Baker thinks her problems are over when her husband, Billy, is killed after a struggle and fire that destroys their house. As she rebuilds her life and home, rumors swirl around town.
The cast of this movie is good, but it becomes grossly obvious that all the female characters are there solely to help the story arcs of the male characters work. This makes for a very predictable thriller that feels like it could have been made in the 1990s.
Phillip (played by Casey Affleck), a psychiatrist exploring innovative ways to treat his patients, and Grace (played by Michelle Monaghan), a real estate agent, are dealing with their grief in their own distinct ways, three years after the tragic loss of their son. Phillip immerses himself in his work, growing increasingly distant from his loved ones and causing frustration. Grace strives to maintain a sense of normalcy and balance, while their daughter Lucy (India Eisley) faces expulsion from school.
Their lives are thrown into chaos when Phillip’s patient, Daphne, dies in an apparent suicide. The arrival of Daphne’s brother, James Flagg (played by Sam Claflin), an author, into Phillip’s home and life marks a bizarre and perilous turn of events.
Although Every Breath You Take initially subverts expectations by shifting direction following a tragic accident in the opening sequence, the film fails to explore the trauma and grief associated with the loss of a child. It’s possible that director Vaughn Stein and writer David K. Murray sought to avoid this avenue, but the complete lack of exploration is a weighty burden on the film, detracting from its excitement and depth.
Phillip’s research study, where he shares his own life stories to help Daphne feel less alone and more comfortable sharing her own experiences, is intriguing in its own right. However, the film uses it to drive the actions of James, transforming the story into a high-stakes thriller that is both exhausting and somewhat flat. Even during its most thrilling moments, the film relies heavily on predictable tropes, with the story failing to surpass the limits it has set for itself.
Moreover, Every Breath You Take suffers from several illogical plot points, particularly revolving around the mystery of James and his intentions towards Phillip’s family. The final twist leaves viewers scratching their heads, wondering why Phillip didn’t conduct a more thorough investigation. Despite unraveling Phillip’s family, career, and sense of security, the film sidesteps much of the emotional turmoil that could have heightened the impact of its key moments.
Most frustrating is the portrayal of Lucy, played by India Eisley, who fulfills the stereotypical role of an emotionally distant teenager but remains one of the most underdeveloped characters. In contrast, Sam Claflin delivers a standout performance, balancing James’ charisma, elusive allure, and calculated danger. Claflin’s portrayal of a twisted character is a departure from his previous roles and keeps viewers engaged as his character unravels.
Casey Affleck’s portrayal of Phillip is serviceable, although he comes across as brooding and incapable of expressing his emotions. Michelle Monaghan, in a smaller role, outshines Affleck with her excellent portrayal of grief, terror, and exhaustion that lingers in her interactions. She’s a woman trying to cope with her emotions while keeping them in check.
Every Breath You Take has several intriguing ideas that, separately, could have worked. However, the film fails to deliver on the potential of its promising beginning. While it remains cohesive, the film never truly explores the interiority of its characters, and the focus on building tension leads to a tedious plot that falters in bringing everything together. Twists and turns can only do so much; it would have been more satisfying if the film had lingered longer on its characters and delved deeper into their themes and backstories.