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Everybody Has a Plan review: Viggo Mortensen stars in leaden thriller

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Director: Ana Piterbarg; Screenwriter Ana Piterbarg, Ana Cohan; Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Soledad Villamil, Daniel Fanego, Javier Godino, Sofía Gala; Running time: 118 mins; Certificate: 15


Actors who can genuinely rise above subpar material are few and far between, and Viggo Mortensen is one of them. His soulful lead turn as a German scholar-turned-Nazi sympathizer elevated an otherwise shaky stage adaptation in 2008's Good, and his tongue-in-cheek take on Freud was one of the few redeeming features of David Cronenberg's stilted and misjudged A Dangerous Method.

In Everybody Has a Plan, the feature debut from Argentinian director Ana Piterbarg, we're gifted with not one but two Mortensen performances. This, surely, should be a done deal. So why is the end result - with its enticing blend of character study, crime drama and potboiler plotting - such a joyless chore?

Admittedly, the premise is enough to make you nervous. Frustrated Buenos Aires paediatrician Agustín (Mortensen), who's desperate to escape his life of quiet desperation, sees an opportunity in the sudden death of his identical twin brother Pedro. Faster than you can say "daytime soap opera", he's assumed his dead brother's identity and started a new life in the shadowy island town of Tigre.

Viggo Mortensen in 'Everybody Has a Plan'

Viggo Mortensen in 'Everybody Has a Plan'

But his dead brother's identity comes with strings attached: on the plus side, there's comely love interest Rosa (Sofia Gala Castiglione), and on the less-than-plus side there are the criminal cohorts and a murder case in which Agustín finds himself implicated.

Watching this buttoned-down, middle-class character being unwittingly drawn into the darkness ought to be riveting, but his motives are non-existent and we're given no reason to care about the life he's left behind, although Soledad Villamil provokes some sympathy as his broody wife Claudia.

While Piterbarg has directed extensively for television, this is only her second writing credit, and it shows. The setup is laid out intriguingly enough, with the two brothers facing off in a lengthy and elusive dialogue sequence, but rather than mining for more Mortensen-squared gold the script cuts their interaction short with an underwritten shock-value beat, seemingly without any idea how to follow it up.

There's some genuinely stunning location work in the later stages, and cinematographer Lucio Bonelli imbues the seemingly tranquil waterside town with a sense of unease. Mortensen's as committed and rigorous as you'd expect and brings a kind of wounded heroism to Agustín, but both brothers are so thinly conceived that he can't do much beyond hint at hidden depths. Piterbarg even seems to lose interest in her own characters by a certain point, setting in motion some conflicts between Agustín and the women in his life that go exactly nowhere.

Packed with missed opportunities and fumbled dramatic punches, Everybody Has a Plan feels like a waste of potential. A character study can't get away with this little character, and a campy identity-swap thriller can't get away with being this po-faced.

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