REVIEW: ‘The Son of No One.’ Channing Tatum Is a Tortured Cop With a Tortured Mustache, Stuck in a Movie That Makes No Sense


1. "The Son of No One" is terrible, which is really a shame, because it's clearly so heartfelt and sincere. That is not for nothing: The world has seen more than its fair share of cynical, lazy cop dramas, and in a sad way, "The Son of No One" earns points just for caring so much. Every scene is wrung dry for every bit of emotion, and even if that emotion never once rings true, even if the story doesn't make sense, even if every narrative instinct the film has points it in (often comically) wrong directions ... you never once doubt that writer/director Dito Montiel doesn't live and die with every second of it. You have to respect that. It's why I found myself shaking my head wearily at every scene that thuds to the ground and skitters across the floor, rather than ceding to the urge to chuckle. He's trying. He's trying way, way too hard.

2. This is the type of movie that Vinnie from "Entourage" would have made against the advice of his agents and posse, simply because it's about Queens. Montiel -- whose "A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints" was equally heartfelt, if similarly (if not as drastically) inert in every possible dramatic fashion -- decided to make his Big New York City Cop Movie, complete with every trope, from the crooked department brass to childhood sins behind revisited as an adult to the ethnic cauldron bubbling up within every New York neighborhood to some truly impressive mustaches. (Some of those things defy gravity.) Montiel, ever ambitious, ups the ante here by setting the film in the year after September 11 in order to ... you know, I'm not sure why he did that. To infuse his film with some higher importance? To come up with an excuse to CGI Al Pacino into a scene with Rudy Giuliani? Because he happened to have it in his brain when he sat down to write the script? Whatever the reason, it was a terrible decision: It's irrelevant to the movie's plot, and it sets up an expectation of gravitas that this movie doesn't come close to approaching. I think Montiel just thought it would make his film seem more "serious."

3. Channing Tatum, who has given his best performances in Montiel's films ("Saints," as well as "Fighting") is sturdy and game in the lead role, even if the movie doesn't have the foggiest idea what he's supposed to be doing. As a child, Tatum's Jonathan White, living in a tough Queens project, was attacked by a junkie and successfully fought him off and killed him; because this is a particularly tough project, he does it again a few days later. Now, you might think, "Well, jeez, that's sort of pretty forgivable for a 10-year-old kid to kill a couple of junkies attacking him," but not so in the universe of "The Son of No One." Here, it's Original Sin, the haunting "cold-blooded killing" that White desperately wants hidden (and a mysterious letter writer is threatening to expose). Even his late father's partner -- played by a bored Al Pacino -- helps cover up the murder, as if young Jonathan were a budding Ed Gein, rather than a scared kid trying to protect himself. The movie never resolves this gaping issue: Why doesn't someone just say, "Hey, he was a kid in the projects and he got attacked. Maybe he wasn't evil?" It's indicative of the sloppy plotting in general: Montiel just asks us to accept it and move on.

4. I might be willing to, but White as a grownup doesn't make any more sense. After meeting his wife (Katie Holmes, a once-skilled actress who has imploded in the public eye, and for whom Montiel's stilted dialogue does few favors) working at a record store, he, on a whim, decides to take the civil service exam, and next thing you know, lo and behold, he's back working in his dad's old precinct. Uh-huh. He of course runs into a childhood friend (Tracy Morgan, who's actually sort of effective, if quiet) who knows about the murders, and an enterprising (and inexplicably British) newspaper reporter played by Juliette Binoche and a bully precinct captain who exists because Montiel's pretty excited to have Ray Liotta in his movie. This goes nowhere, but Montiel never seems to realize it; he keeps ratcheting up the swelling music and the portentous tone like something's really happening, that this all Means Something. It doesn't. You kind of feel bad for him.

5. This is precisely the type of movie people love to pile on. It's festering with plot problems, it tackles weightier issues than it has the intellectual capacity to handle, it has some real howlers in the dialogue ("The NYPD is a family! You passed your civil service exam to re-join this family!") and it has Katie Holmes in a small role. And I can't argue with anyone who thinks it's horrible: It is, after all. But I take no particular joy in it. This is a movie that is so eager to be Big and Important, and just because it's misguided and messy and nonsensical doesn't mean it wasn't at least trying. That's not enough. That's not even close to enough. But I can't really spit on the grave here. "The Son of No One" in a lot of ways is bad because it is so self-serious and weighted down with its own importance. I don't want filmmakers to stop trying because "The Son of No One" is so bad. Even though I'd understand if they did.

Grade: D+