How long has it been since Gerard Butler starred in a movie as quiet as The Vanishing?
If only it shared his ability to modulate the tone of his work to fit the dictates of the story being told. What should’ve been a 70-minute corker of a karmic morality parable about three lighthouse keepers (Butler’s joined by Peter Mullan and Connor Swindells) who descend into a sort of collective madness alone on a cramped, barren island is uncomfortably stretched into a laborious two-hour character drama.
Self-awareness is the key to life, both on-screen and off; The Vanishing and a lot of Gerard Butler’s usual action romps commit the same cardinal mistake of thinking they can be more than they most naturally are, and need to be. How many Hollywood spectacles have you slogged through in which the first 30 minutes are filled with the requisite [jack-off hand motion] attempts at fulfilling the empty ideal of character development?
Yes, the best examples properly introduce us to the main characters so we’re that much more interested in all their subsequent exploits. Unfortunately, most studios can’t get them a filmmaker who can do both; those who can pull off nonstop thrills are rarely adept at bringing to life the intimate details that are the bread and butter of character creation (again, obviously there are exceptions).
This problem just as commonly besets smaller films, those that strive for faux-prestige when they should be perfectly satisfied being perfectly satisfying. Too much of The Vanishing fashions itself as a Conor McPherson play, with whiffs of the supernatural and all (technically, he’s Irish and the movie is based on an infamous Scottish unsolved mystery…but c’mon, their cultures are close enough, both geographically and artistically). It gets bogged down under the weight of the imitation, trying to force a potentially entertaining, if bluntly-square peg into an impossibly-precise circle the size of McPherson’s brilliance.
Why not lean into the stylistic possibilities and sheer rush that seem like natural offshoots of the classic set-up? Why not revel in the intrigue intrinsic to desperate men stuck in a confined space with a finite amount of gold to split, and other external threats further compounding their unrest? Why is The Vanishing so freaking serious?
If it had let itself have more fun, and thus be more fun, maybe I wouldn’t have found my attention vanishing into boredom.
Basically, I’m saying the movie should’ve struck a similar tone as the mood of its posters:
I want to see THAT Vanishing, not the muted one currently in theaters…