A low-budget Belgian thriller of a few years back becomes a lean if not wholly logical James McAoy vehicle of the same title in “My Son,” which has him and Claire Foy playing divorced parents frantically searching for their missing child.
Writer-director Christian Carion’s original film was notable for its spare plot and pace, both credited to the picture’s much-hyped, rushed six day shooting schedule. Here that hype has been shifted to the talented McAvoy, who the producers have told British newspapers “improvised” most of his performance.
Such backstories are usually neither here nor there, just part of the selling/”myth building” of another variation of “Taken” or “Ransom” or any film about a child’s kidnapping. But it helps explain the oddly disorienting character McAvoy plays, a man who keeps us off-balance because of the impulses we see him act on and the mysteries he keeps about who he is and what he’s capable of.
Edmond Murray is no Liam Neeson “Taken” cliche, no chap “with particular skills” that he can apply to this situation. Or IS he? We aren’t meant to figure that out.
Edmond dashes home, bleary-eyed, from whatever part of the world his vague “oil industry” construction/consulting job has taken him to. His “wee boy” was snatched from a camp he was attending in the gloom of early winter. And when Edmond gets there, authorities are dragging the lake beside that camp.
His ex, Joan (Foy, of “The Crown” and “The Girl in the Spider’s Web”), is devastated.
His questions — veering from sympathetic to accusatory — are no comfort. Yes, she checked out the people who run the “astronaut/astronomy” camp. Yes, the idea for the camp may have come from her current beau (Tom Cullen). No, little Ethan (aged seven) didn’t want to come.
The police officer in charge (veteran character actor Gary Lewis) is the first to use the word “kidnapping.” His questions of Edmond are just as personal, just as barbed as the ones Edmond asked of Joan. They’re about his work, the “dangerous” places he sometimes has to perform it. Yes, they’d like to search his phone.
Edmond’s guarded helplessness takes an abrupt turn when he talks, for the first time, with Joan’s new man. Frank seems removed from all this, relieved he has the sort of job (a builder) where he can take the time off to “be there” for Joan, quick to medicate Joan to calm her down and callously eager to show off the plans for the house he plans to build for them, a house that Edmond instantly realizes “has no room for my wee boy.”
As we’ve seen in McAvoy performances from “Filth” to “Split,” he likes delivering the shocking, sudden flip-out. It starts with a “Are ye f—–g KIDDING me?” It climaxes with a beating and his arrest. If Edmond had any prayer of interesting the police in his new, concocted-on-the-spot “theory,” the copper isn’t having it.
“You’re in no position to tell me how to conduct this investigation right now.”
Joan’s unsettling underreaction to that beating speaks volumes. His “I’ve never KNOWN you to take a pill in your life” doesn’t excuse him or his behavior.
“You don’t KNOW me any more.”
The plot unravels in much more conventional ways after that, serving up a mystery with a solution that’s entirely too common in movies these days, a solution that’s arrived at in equally conventional “movie” ways.
But McAvoy keeps us wrong-footed, pretty much to the “Wait, what just happened?” (think about it) finale. There’s an exhausted brittleness to the relationship he and Foy conjure up and a genuine sense that a lot of what happens is what two desperate people leap into doing, without much forethought, on the spot. They’re grasping at anything that might get them their wee boy back.
Carion’s film has a gloriously foggy and rainy pall, and he stages the tense third act pursuit with enough verve to remind us he’s not a bystander in all this. “Improvised” or not, this is most certainly his brisk walk through the same movie he filmed four years ago in the Low Countries.
It’s not “Taken,” but that’s one of the chief appeals in McAvoy’s character and his performance of him. He ensures we don’t necessarily know what’s coming because he’s damned good at making us think he doesn’t know either.
Rating: R for language throughout and some violence.
Cast: James McAvoy, Claire Foy, Tom Cullen and Gary Lewis
Credits: Directed by Christian Carion, scripted by Christian Carion and Laure Irrmann, based on Carion’s 2017 film. An STX release on Roku.
Running time: 1:30