Toronto Review: Brian Goodman's What Doesn't Kill You
by Alex Billington
September 15, 2008
Everyone knows the age old saying that what doesn't kill you only makes you stronger. In this film, that's the unquestionable truth for South Boston thug Brian (Mark Ruffalo) and his friend Paulie (Ethan Hawke), who grew up stealing and bullying fellow locals for cash. Now he's got a wife and two kids and is still making his money in dishonest ways. What Doesn't Kill You unfortunately isn't the next Departed or Gone Baby Gone, but it's another fine film in the on-going South Boston chronicles. First-time writer/director Brian Goodman pulls together quite a few great elements in the film, from the acting to the score, but it's in dire need of a script rewrite and editing overhaul before it can be called a true gem.
What Doesn't Kill You is the story of two South Boston thugs told from the other side for once. Brian's partner in crime is his best friend Paulie, who seems to lack any moral compass and bullies cops and elders alike. When Brian borders on the edge of making a smart decision for once, it's Paulie who pulls him back down. Detective Moran (Donnie Wahlberg) has been on the tail of the two for a while and finally catches them off guard and books them both for five years. When Brian finally gets out of prison, he starts trying to live a clean life, starting by patching up his relationship with his wife (Amanda Peet) and two kids. But when Paulie gets out and Brian is struggling to find a job, it's back to the thug life they know best.
Over the last few years I've gained a certain knack for South Boston films about gangsters, thugs, and cops, and was delighted to discover yet another quality film set in that snowy neighborhood. What Doesn't Kill You has a great cast, an amazing score compliments of Alex Wurman, and a story that builds to an impressive finish by the end, but it's not another personal favorite. Like a raw diamond, this needs quite a bit of polishing before the great film within it shows up. I know it's in there, Goodman just needs to go back into the editing room for a few months, re-master the audio and dialogue, throw in some ADR, and spend some time editing the rather rough first half of the film, but once he does he'll have a solid hit on his hands.
As time has passed and I've been able to think further about the film, its grown on me more, but that might just be because I loved seeing another South Boston story, this time from the side of the thugs. This is definitely Mark Ruffalo's year, as he proves in this yet again that he's a phenomenal actor, but he deserves to be in the spotlight more for The Brothers Bloom than What Doesn't Kill You. On the other hand, Ethan Hawke was the weak link, delivering a rather meek performance when he could've done so much better. What Doesn't Kill You is certainly a film that I suggest those looking for great dramas should seek out, but don't expect the next big Oscar winner… yet. Maybe with some editing, Goodman can turn it into one.
Toronto Rating: 6.5 out of 10