Film Review: 'Return to Sender'

Rosamund Pike's first major role following her numerous accolades and nominations for Gone Girl (2014) sees her playing, yet again, another ambitious, multi-talented and gorgeous woman. Yet again, she is the victim of a brutal crime. And, yet again, all is not as it seems when it comes to her involvement. Is this a sequel to her breakthrough role? No, but it certainly feels like it. Even worse than a narrative knock-off is the fact that Pike seems to flounder quite spectacularly in leading lady status. The golden sheen of the Oscars is gone and Pike - along with this film - seem to been resting too heavily on her laurels.

In Return to Sender (2015), Pike plays Miranda, a small town nurse who aspires to a position in the surgical ward. She is also a single woman, every bit as beautiful as she is brainy. A mistaken identity leaves Miranda prone when William (Shiloh Fernandez) shows up at her door, posing as her blind date. He makes his way inside and after a few tense moments, violently rapes Miranda. Bereft of purpose, she slowly rebuilds her life. In the process, she sets a plan of revenge against William in motion that seeks to restore the balance she dearly craves. This is an exercise in cinematic disorder of the highest grade. Not only is there is a terrible misuse of talent working here, the story is a completely fragmented. As an actress who's now reached her maximum visibility, Pike deserves better material than this nonsense. Every scene, every plot twist, every character development echoes in its hollowness; there's little to redeem a very shallow story.

Rather than turning personal trauma into triumph, screenwriters Patricia Beauchamp and Joe Gossett (both still a bit wet behind their Hollywood ears) delve into clipped melodrama. There's no reason to care about the characters onscreen. Every person is a trope meant to squeeze out even the smallest iotas of sympathy. Yet the work being done onscreen deserves none of it. Moreover, using rape as a device and then exploring the psychological implications of it in its simplest parameters is inherently insulting rather that redeeming here. From weak material springs weak performances. Pike comes across as jittery and overeager.

The placid, conniving, revenge-driven mastermind she constructed in Gone Girl is reduced here to its basest equivalent and regurgitated for the masses. Fernandez is a one-note criminal who seems unsure whether he wants to really sink into his role or not. Nick Nolte's turn as Miranda's father may be the one bright spot amidst all this commotion, but unfortunately his endearment comes at the expense of a ravaged daughter and a dead dog. Pity. A word to the wise: save time when pondering if this film is worth the watch. There is nothing that can save it, not even the star quality of Rosamund Pike herself. If only Return to Sender could itself be sent right back to the studio from whence it came.

Allie Gemmill | @alliegem


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