‘Details’ doesn’t quite gather momentum it needs

What is “The Details”? A slightly surreal film noir, perhaps, or an “American Beauty” with larceny in its soul? Or a black comedy with something serious to say?

If the movie had a little more urgency, it might be easier to care about the answer. Meet the Lang family, from the suburbs outside Seattle, a pleasant young couple with a toddler son.

Husband Jeff (Tobey Maguire) is a sex-starved doctor who gets into various layers of trouble when his discontent leads him into a few wrong situations. As the dominos fall, he finds himself rationalizing bad decisions.

Or, in the movie’s less convincing moments, he simply goes with the flow and fails to do the right thing. Wife Nealy (Elizabeth Banks) is on the sidelines for most of this, although toward the end of the movie she jumps back into the thick of it and you realize how much she might have added along the way.

One of Jeff’s mistakes has to do with an attractive med-school classmate (Kerry Washington), who is unfortunately married to a thuggish tough guy (Ray Liotta). The indiscretion is comprehensible, although his encounters with a well-described “wackadoodle neighbor” (Laura Linney, having some fun) are maybe less so.

There’s also a subplot with Jeff’s pal from a pickup basketball league, played by Dennis Haysbert (quite a sight with shaved head and big gray beard — although there’s no mistaking his voice). This might actually have some resonance, but Haysbert’s role feels like it exists mostly to set up later plot turns.

In fact, for a movie that wants to suggest how one bad move leads directly into the briar patch, “The Details” doesn’t quite have that film noir sense of tumbling inevitability about it. The mood is just a little too casual, somehow.

Some of this might be down to Tobey Maguire’s glazed presence. He draws some of the slow-burning humor out of the early scenes, but he doesn’t project the drive that might convince us that Jeff’s restlessness would absolutely have to go down this crooked path.

Director Jacob Aaron Estes’ previous film was “Mean Creek,” a serious account of teens and their response to a bad situation. He has a good sense of how lies can take on power, and he’s got an interesting idea for the ending of “The Details,” which leaves an effective chill in the air. It’s worth a look, but could use a stronger engine.

“The Details” (2½ stars)

The decision-making skills of a restless, sex-starved doctor (Tobey Maguire) are sorely tested in this black-comic film noir with surreal touches. Somehow the film doesn’t quite gather the momentum is wants to drum up, and Maguire is a little too glazed to convey the urgency of his situation. With Elizabeth Banks, Laura Linney.

Rated: R for language, subject matter.

Showing: Sundance.

More in Life

For Texas BBQ, look for the school bus at the reptile museum

This husband-and-wife team has been serving up brisket and more for a decade in Monroe.

This new Pacific Northwest history textbook is a page turner

Opportunity, growth, conflict. It all happened here, historian David Jepsen says. “Snohomish… Continue reading

The ‘Whimsical Woman’ shares what she learns on the trail

Jennifer Mabus came here from Nevada and Hawaii. She leads hikes and blogs about them.

Restored historic bungalow is featured Everett Home Tour stop

The new owners received high praise from previous inhabitants for preserving its character.

Oh, the horrors! ‘mother’ an exhausting carnival of chaos

What is “mother!”? The coy publicity for this non-capitalized movie hasn’t revealed… Continue reading

Urban trails: 10 hiking destinations close to home

You don’t have to go into the backcountry to hike through Snohomish… Continue reading

Glamping: This mom’s new fav way to do family vacations

After spending the summer searching for the perfect tent trailer, I finally… Continue reading

This father’s reflections on the joys and fears of parenthood

I loved having children. It’s been one of the high points of… Continue reading

Most Read