THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Abandon stars Katie Holmes as Katie Burke, a college senior in the middle of a stressful time. Graduation is drawing near, her thesis needs completion, and she's interviewing with a major investment company. One day, a police detective named Wade Handler (Benjamin Bratt) shows up investigating the disappearance of Katie's former boyfriend Embry (Charlie Hunnam). The kid has been missing for the better part of two years, but he's never been found. Not long after Handler shows up and starts asking questions, Katie begins seeing Embry around campus. She claims he is back to stalk her.

You would be forgiven for writing off Abandon based on the way Paramount Pictures has advertised it. Having seen the trailer several times, I assumed the movie would be just what it looked like - yet another generic adolescent thriller a la Swimfan starring a hot young actress from The WB. However, this is another case of a Hollywood studio trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Abandon is not going to appeal to the majority of teenagers at whom it is aimed because, despite the sales pitch, it isn't a thriller. At least not a typical one. It's much more ambitious than you might expect.

Katie Holmes falls under the spell of Charlie Hunnam in Abandon
During the early scenes, I wasn't even sure I liked the movie. Not much seemed to be happening. About a half hour in, I realized that the story was developing in ways I didn't expect. The ads make you think the movie is about the ex-boyfriend coming back to stalk Katie. That's somewhat of a red herring. Without giving away anything too important, I can say that Abandon gets its title from the abandonment issues the main character has. Katie's father, we learn, left when she was young. The incident scarred her for life. Then, in college, she meets Embry. He is one of those charismatic-but-temperamental kids who occasionally spiral out of control across Ivy League campuses. Embry is narcissistic, creative, and has a flair for the overly dramatic. His disappearance comes after telling an audience - who has turned out for the premiere of a play he wrote - to screw themselves. Prior to this, Katie attracted his attention. He made her feel special and helped her see the potential she had for bigger things. His sudden departure left her devastated.

The scenes with the cop initially seem out of place. He comes around, asks some questions, cozies up to Katie a little bit. I wasn't sure what his function was. Then a side character makes a comment about Katie: she has a way of making men feel that they need to "save" her. It becomes clear that Wade is becoming a part of her dependency problem. Unable to deal with the recurring visions of Embry - as well as the emotional wreckage he left behind - Katie pulls Wade in. The movie ultimately answers the question of what happened to Embry, but the explanation isn't so much about his disappearance as it is about the implications of Katie's issues.

Once I realized that Abandon was going down a different path, I really started to admire it. The movie was written and directed by Stephen Gaghan, who won an Oscar for penning Traffic. He comes up with a lot of good scenes that create a sense of psychological unease. For example, I noticed that Katie didn't start seeing Embry until the detective started poking around. This made me wonder if he was really there at all. Gaghan pays attention to the little details like this that subtlely provide texture for the story. I suspect the film will hold up well under a second viewing, when you can take what you already know and find the little clues scattered about.

At the center is a terrific performance from Katie Holmes. She was so good in Wonder Boys and The Gift, but has also made some predictable clunkers like Teaching Mrs. Tingle. This time, she has found a role that puts her talents center stage. It's a complicated role, as the character is externally strong but internally vulnerable. Holmes hits every note perfectly.

To be honest, I didn't expect to like this film, but I did. I see a couple hundred movies a year. Often times, I feel like I know everything that's going to happen in a film within the first ten minutes. Not many of them surprise me, so when one comes along that does, I find myself responding to it excitedly. If you like movies that explore the psychology of troubled people, Abandon is worth getting excited about.

( out of four)

Abandon is rated PG-13 for drug and alcohol content, sexuality, some violence and language. The running time is 1 hour and 39 minutes.

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