"The Woman in the Fifth" is something of an interesting international hybrid. Set in Paris, this presentation was actually a British and Polish co-production and stars an American actor in the leading role. How's that for diversity? Writer/director Pawel Pawlikowski has assembled an intriguing chamber piece that relies more on mood than on storytelling. There are many different ways to describe the film, but it's hard to discuss the movie in-depth without revealing too much. Branded by a blurb on the DVD cover as a "cool, creepy psychological thriller" by Time magazine, I'm not certain that is how I'd position the film for a mass audience. While the experience surely does create an unsettling vibe, it may be too low-key to be fully embraced as a thriller. At best, I'd call it an atmospheric character study. There is a lot to recommend "The Woman in the Fifth" (including one of Ethan Hawke's most compelling performances), but ultimately it is an experience that connected more with my mind than with my heart. And this lack of emotional investment on my part makes my ultimate recommendation rather tepid.
Hawke plays an American writer in Paris trying to reconnect with his estranged wife and child. The road to redemption and happiness, however, is never easy and Hawke finds himself in a dingy hotel surrounded by a rather unsavory criminal element. As he is drawn into more dire situations, he finds possible solace in the arms of a mysterious stranger (the always welcome Kristin Scott Thomas). As the two grow closer and Hawke attempts to prevent his life from spiraling out of control, you don't initially see how important she will become. It's probably best, for the sake of discretion, to leave the description there. If you have read about the movie at all, it should be apparent that maybe not everything is as it seems. And Pawlikowski paints a pretty bleak portrait. Is Hawke a salvageable character? And what influence does Scott Thomas exert over him? Can he rebuild his life or will it continue to slide downward?
I think it's fair to say that not all of the answers will be provided. The movie can probably be interpreted in different ways by different viewers. And while I enjoyed the enigmatic nature of the screenplay, it was more of a intellectual experiment that a visceral experience. Sometimes that works for a picture. But after creating a fully realized leading character, I just really wanted to be more emotionally connected to his journey. It's not Hawke's fault. In fact. I think this may be one of his stronger roles. Teetering at the brink of madness and desperation, his unpredictability is one of the story's most fascinating aspects. Ultimately, I admired much of "The Woman in the Fifth" while I was watching it. That said, it is also not a movie that I'll revisit very often if ever. Well made, but not very fulfilling (for me), I'd definitely check this out if you are a Hawke fan. Otherwise, don't let the thriller description throw you. This is a contemplative character study for patient audiences. About 3 1/2 stars. KGHarris, 9/12.