Screened at the Toronto International Film Festival
TORONTO -- A low-key crime thriller navigating the path to moral redemption taken by an ethically challenged lawyer, Return to Sender
marks a return to form for Pelle the Conqueror
director Bille August
, whose more recent films, including Smilla's Sense of Snow
and the 1998 version of Les Miserables
had problems finding their center.
While very deliberately paced, the picture re mains compelling courtesy of a script by Neal Purvis
and Robert Wade that, for the most part, chooses not to connect the usual dots -- as well as nicely modulated performances by Aidan Quinn and Connie Nielsen.
It may lack the commercial drive of a John Grisham
vehicle, but Return to Sender
could still carve out a modest theatrical niche with the right distributor.
Quinn has landed one of his more complex roles as Frank Nitzche, a defense lawyer on a serious losing streak. He's lost his last three capital cases, with his last client going to the electric chair.
Broke and cynical, he has started up a lucrative little side business by corresponding with death row convicts and selling their letters to the highest bidders.
But when his biggest score yet -- a woman (Nielsen) awaiting execution after being found guilty in the kidnap and murder of a young child -- has stopped writing to him, Nitzche heads to Oklahoma to pay her a jail visit.
At first, their encounters have a predictable cat-and-mouse dynamic, but soon something deeper and more interesting develops between them, leading to a major crisis of conscience for Frank as he begins to question her guilty verdict.
August runs a tightly controlled ship here, if perhaps a little too controlled, especially during the film's expositional first half-hour, which occasionally takes on the visual equivalent of a Southern drawl.
Once the story clicks into gear, however, the level of involvement remains relatively high.
The subtle mood shifts give Quinn and Nielsen plenty to play with, while Kelly Preston
, as the lawyer fighting a losing battle to exonerate her client, Sara-Marie Maltha, as Nielsen's blind sister, and Timothy Daly
, as Maltha's sight-impaired husband, round out the well-chosen cast.
Return to Sender
Director: Bille August
Producer: Michael Lunderskov
Executive producers: Gary Smith, Paul White, Michael H. Laursen, Peter H. Laursen, Andrew Brown
Screenwriters: Neal Purvis
& Robert Wade
Director of photography: Dirk Bruel
Production designer: Viggo Bentzon
Editor: John Scott
Music: Harry Gregson-Williams
Charlotte Cory: Connie Nielsen
Frank Nitzche: Aidan Quinn
Susan Kennan: Kelly Preston
Martin North: Timothy Daly
Stella: Sara-Marie Maltha
MPAA Rating: Not yet rated
Running time -- 103 minutes