This movie was a pleasant surprise. In the early part, I thought it might be one of those "vanity projects" for Morgan Freeman and Gene Hackman, who produce it and act in it. Things start off a little affected, shallow superficial, with the writing and acting even seeming a little clumsy at times. But in retrospect, that was the nature of the characters' relationships at the beginning of the story.
Let's cut to the chase. There are agendas all over the place. Underlying resentments surface in the course of the movie and true characters are laid bare through conflict among the major players. Roles that are sympathetic in the beginning are decidedly less so by the end. Multiple characters gang up on a character who seems slightly oafish in the beginning but who emerges as the one with the most personal integrity by the end (whether you agree with his values or not). Suffice to say that there is much ambivalence about old loyalties and relationships.
It's a amovie about the things people do to friends and loved ones when personal needs and insecurities get into the picture - and the lengths to which people go to hurt those with whom they once were close, when resentments have festered. Ironically, although both of the central figures voice their belief that they are honest in their actions, their tragic failure stems from their inability to be honest with each other. It's also a cautionary tale about failing to recognize the limits on trauma that relationships can bear and that no matter how much you wish you could change things after the fact, there's a point at which the ties are irretrievably broken. During the course of the story, everyone's past histories with each other factor into the way events play out, and things that happened earlier in the movie begin to make more sense.
It gets intense; it's not an easy film to watch on an emotional level, but by the 2/3 mark, I was completely immersed and couldn't look away. It's difficult to watch the other characters systematically and methodically coordinate to destroy the remaining character (the title of the source book is "Brainwash"), only to sow the seeds of their own destruction in the process. The landscape is littered with emotional devastation at the end; An engaged viewer will share in the sense of desolation. It won't allow you to be a passive observer. Like I said, difficult to watch, but definitely worth it. This movie is not light fare and it will affect you.
Acting, direction and production are all top notch. Gene Hackman is well suited for his role and your attention is focused closely on him at the end. Outside of Melana or Ville Marie, this is Monica Bellucci's best work IMO. Her strengths have always been communicating with her eyes and non-verbal language generally. Opportunites are presented for display of a full palate of postures, body movements and their timimg, etc , and all are exercised. It escapes me how she can appear so vulnerable, vengeful and innocent at the same time.
When the movie was over, I replayed the end sequence four times. I sat and breathed for a while and then watched the whole thing again from the beginning. Knowing what you do at the end completely changes your perspective of things that were said and done earlier. I reflected on this movie for two days, an unfamiliar phenomenon in my personal experience. I recommend this film highly. I had watched a streaming video of it originally, but plan to buy the dvd now.