Lacking much in the way of star power, Tomorrow You’re Gone might well be a mystery to audiences when it opens this Friday in Grapevine. I wish I could say that the low-budget entry balances thrills and gravitas well enough to be worth paying admission for. Sadly, this turgid, self-important study of sin and redemption is so devoid of any pleasurable elements that it may send you running into the taloned clutches of the re-released Jurassic Park instead.
Based on Matthew F. Jones’ novel Boot Tracks — which, I must admit, I haven’t had a chance to read — the movie stars Stephen Dorff as Charlie Rankin, a convict who receives coded messages in prison from Billy the Buddha (Willem Dafoe), a spiritual mentor and fellow criminal who has arranged Charlie’s safety behind bars. Upon his release, Charlie picks up a bag in a bus station locker with enough cash to start his life over. The price of all this is that, per Billy’s orders, he must kill a stranger to him (Robert LaSardo) who has double-crossed Billy.
Director David Jacobson applies a heavy pedal to the material’s Dostoyevskian overtones, especially when it comes to the character of Florence (Michelle Monaghan), a sometime porn actress who meets Charlie on the bus and sticks tenaciously by his side as he buys a car and sets out on a road trip to do his deed. Not that he tells her what he’s up to or indeed much of anything at all about himself — he even tells her his name is “Samson” so that she won’t get too close, which makes it a mystery why she goes with him. Churchgoing and infinitely patient, Florence is something like a saintly figure offering Charlie balm for his troubled soul. And, man, is his soul troubled — he’s so consumed by his guilt over his past and future transgressions that he shows little interest in having sex with her, despite multiple overtures on her part and him being fresh out of prison. The Crime and Punishment in the air is downright suffocating.
Jacobson is no Dostoyevsky, much as he would like to be. The filmmaker previously brought his didactic and action-averse touch to his 2005 thriller Down in the Valley and his 2002 serial killer flick Dahmer, though that latter film gave Jeremy Renner his first major role, so we should be grateful to Jacobson for that much. Here he soaks the visuals in deep shadows, sets many scenes in drizzling rain, and has his actors read their lines with a Southern lilt, even though it’s not clear where in America this story is supposed to be taking place. The portentous atmosphere primes us for something momentous to happen at any moment, though hardly anything at all winds up happening. We’re supposed to find this all profound. Instead, it’s just empty.
With his face in a permanent glower, Dorff delivers little besides monotone intensity, and though Monaghan provides the movie’s few notes of spontaneity and teasing good humor (and plays lots of scenes in her underwear), she’s operating in a vacuum. Her efforts can’t inject any life to Charlie and Florence’s arid conversations about sin and grace, nor can they make her character feel like an actual person. As Charlie’s assignment goes wrong and forces him into a final confrontation with Billy, you’re struck by how little Tomorrow You’re Gone has to say about its chosen subject. Assuming that you’re still awake at that point, anyway.
Tomorrow You’re Gone
Starring Stephen Dorff and Michelle Monaghan. Directed by David Jacobson. Written by Matthew F. Jones, based on his novel. Rated R.