Tenderness marks my final first viewing of a current Russell Crowe film. It's an odd role for Russell in the sense that it's his first independent American film, since becoming a well known actor, and it's a role that only took him nine days to complete. For a nine day performance the end product pretty good, for an independent film (which I rarely enjoy) Tenderness isn't bad, but as a whole the film is quite disturbing.
Eric Komenko-Poole (Jon Foster) is about to turn eighteen and be released from juvenile prison, where he was sentenced for the murder of his parents as a minor. Russell Crowe is detective Lt. Cristofuoro, he's made Eric his own personal hobby, with his wife in a coma all he has going for him is looking after her and keeping an eye on Eric, who he is certain will attempt to kill again once he's released. Lori is a 15 to 16 year old disturbed teenager whose been secretly keeping a scrapbook about Eric, waiting for the day he's released from prison so she can meet him.
When Eric is released he goes to live with his Aunt, played by Laura Dern, but Eric isn't there long as he sets off on a trip to Albany to meet a girl who sent him a letter in prison. He's unaware that young Lori is hiding in the backseat of his car and when she reveals herself Eric tries to drop her off, but she's too persistent in staying and discloses that they had met before he'd killed his parents. Intrigued by this he lets her ride along, but as the film progresses and Lori begins to prod him about the day they met and what she saw, Eric's psychopathic tendencies begin to resurface and it appears Lori might be his next victim. Meanwhile Lt. Cristofuoro is trying to stay on top of Eric's whereabouts knowing that the only place he belongs is in a jail cell.
Some reviews I have read consider Tenderness a story of redemption, but in my opinion there's nothing redeeming about this film. It's twisted, it disturbing, and it's like watching a train-wreck you can't turn away from. I'm not saying the story is horribly written, I'm simply saying there's nothing in the story that I find to be positive that would lead one to say this story or certain characters were somehow redeeming. Both main characters, Eric and Lori are complete nutcases. From the moment Lori gets in Eric's car you're wondering what's her problem, but as the film progresses you quickly begin to realize she's as screwed up as he is.
As for Eric he refrains from killing her on a couple occasions, I guess that's why people find his character redeeming, personally I find it hard to find any sympathy for a character who not only offed his parents but according to Lt. Cristofuoro killed a couple girls before that. How Eric only ended up getting a couple years in juvenile prison, even though he was a minor when he committed the murders is a mystery to me! Russell Crowe puts forth a good performance as a character whose a mixture of John Nash and Richie Roberts. Although he still seems a little out of place in this type of independent thriller, but for a nine day performance it's still a great example of the talent Crowe has.
As a thriller, Tenderness isn't too unpredictable. It's pretty easy to connect the dots, especially after Lori reveals when she first met Eric. The real pulsing question is why is Lori infatuated with him. Is she simply a sucker for the literal "bad boy", is she certifiably nutty, or is there some sick inner desire for Eric to provide her with some form of "comfort"? It ends up being a little bit of each, and while the story doesn't necessarily have a whole lot to it, the realization that something is going to happen to Lori sooner or later, and the creepiness of Eric makes Tenderness hard to not get sucked into. Overall, I can't really say Tenderness was enjoyable because the overall content of the film was rather disturbing at times, but for a film that I figured would put me to sleep I must admit it kept me watching till the very end.