Wicker Park, a deeply psychological story about love and obsession, is really a hard film to pin down--but refreshingly enough, that's a good thing.
This is one of those stories you want to keep vague, for fear of giving away too much. It starts when photographer Matthew (Josh Hartnett) sees dancer Lisa (Diane Kruger) for the first time as she passes by his video shop in the Wicker Park section of Chicago, immediately captivating him. He follows her, they meet and soon fall deeply in love. All things seem to go perfectly until Matthew asks her to move in with him--and she up and leaves on a dance tour without a word. Two years later, Matthew has moved on with his life, has a good job, even a fiancée (Jessica Pare)--but he still has completely gotten over Lisa and the nagging torment of the ''what ifs?'' Then, suddenly, he thinks he catches a glimpse of her in a bar. Not sure if it was she, all the feelings come rushing back nonetheless, and Matthew begins a twisting, obsessive search for the woman who captured his heart years ago. But as Matthew's search intensifies, it leads him deeper into a mystery, which now includes his best friend Luke (Matthew Lillard) and Luke's newfound paramour Alex (Rose Byrne). Facing deception at every turn, Matthew quickly learns that obsession can go both ways--and that indeed you can love someone too much. Fuzzy enough for ya?
Once considered the ''It'' boy, especially after a string of films including Black Hawk Down and Pearl Harbor, Hartnett took himself out of the heartthrob equation by slowing down to one film a year. His last two efforts--2002's 40 Days and 40 Nights and 2003's Hollywood Homicide--didn't do so well at the box office, so in a way Wicker Park is a coming out party for Hartnett. It deftly brings the actor back into the spotlight as a romantic lead as well as taps into some of that talent we all know he has (remember
The Virgin Suicides?) His Matthew is a rather intense fellow but his emotions about the love that got away ring true, even when things turn dangerously towards obsession. In one telling scene, after Hartnett finds out he's been played, he registers his anger through those penetrating brown eyes. As for his female co-stars, Kruger and Byrne (who starred together in the epic Troy) also play well off the situation. Kruger has the easier job of being the sweet object of affection, while Byrne turns in the more complex performance as Alex, who has hidden agendas of her own. As the best friend, Lillard (Without a Paddle) delivers in his usual high energy, goofy shtick but at least this time it's with real human beings instead of CGI dogs named Scooby-Doo.
Director Paul McGuigan (The Reckoning) describes Wicker Park as a ''love story told in a very non-linear way.'' Boy, he isn't kidding. Although Park is a remake of the French film L'Appartement, it takes a wholly original spin on staid themes, which in this day and age, is getting harder and harder to do (and usually only comes in the form of a Charlie Kaufman script). Through McGuigan's guidance, Park toys with your emotions--and your expectations. Jumping back and forth through time, and seen through varying perspectives, the film starts out very slowly--almost too slowly-- setting up what you think is a sweet love story but then having things quickly turn darker. It's plodding and confusing at first, but then it begins to pull back the layers and as you fit the pieces together, you're hooked. And as cheesy as it might sound, you want to the two lovebirds to find each other; you're on the edge of your seat, urging Matthew to hurry up and get to Wicker Park to meet Lisa before she thinks he's never coming and gets on a plane to London forever. Run, Matthew, run!
Supported by engaging performances and a unique take on love, it's nice to be pleasantly surprised by a breath of fresh air like Wicker Park.