Ex-CIA operatives. Wiley and resourceful teenagers. Foreign locales and exotic women. An international conspiracy with high reaching implications. How on Earth did this Aaron Eckhart action thriller go so totally and completely off the rails?
Directed by Philipp Stölzl (North Face, Young Goethe in Love), Erased begins with the central character of Ben Logan (Eckhart) having a sort of typical morning. He’s fumbling about in his apartment, doing his best to sort breakfast for himself and his teenage daughter, Amy (Liano Liberato).
It’s clear from the moment you see her, the way she looks at him, the relationship between father and daughter is strained. I like that the sequence is shot in the confines of a kitchen, a place where Ben is clearly out of his element; a fact demonstrated by his inability to operate little more than the toaster. It puts his daughter in a position of ability, easily showing the character to be competent in ways her father is not. In a way, this sequence shows you everything you need to know about both characters in an efficient, if not overly economical, fashion.
Here they are. They barely know each other. Despite this, Logan is trying to care for his daughter by making her breakfast. Okay, so it’s just toast and juice, but yes, I think it could qualify as breakfast. And then there’s Amy. She’s disgusted by his too-little-too-late attempts at being a father and she’s not afraid to show it.
As Logan’s day progresses, several key elements are seeded by the filmmakers to add a bit of originality to what unfortunately nonetheless results lackluster core plot. Logan is an expatriate. He is working as a kind of engineer for the Halgate company located in Brussels. As he demonstrates some serious flaws in a security system purportedly created by Halgate, a question arises over the patent ownership. Without it, the secrets of the system aren’t exactly safe – a fact that stands to completely ruin their reputation.
This whole sequence is done rather shoddily. It’s clear the intent is to put Logan into a situation early on where his character and moral compass are being tested if not just blatantly questioned. It’s probably meant to provide a little foreshadowing. It’s unfortunate the result is rather tepid. As Logan relays this supposedly critical information to his supervisor, he’s trying to rush off. His daughter is in a photographic essay contest that evening. He can’t be late.
Okay, but he ends up being late and missing everything. Again. No surprise there. This is a man for whom work has always come first. Amy’s won the photographic essay contest to the tune of a cool €250. On the way home, Logan shares some sort of snack with his daughter only, it contains peanuts. Amy’s allergic to freaking peanuts, guy. A fact he might have known had he been around … or paying attention to anything Amy says to him. Ever.
He rushes her to the hospital where they spend the night ensuring the danger has passed. There’s something about the way Aaron Eckhart’s body looks splayed across three, rigidly uncomfortable looking hospital chairs. If you’ve spent any time in a hospital you’ll relate to my intrigue. You see, there’s just no sleeping in any kind of hospital room in any kind of chair. So, immediately, as Logan lays there, looking as though he is sound asleep, I’m wondering about this guy.
Who is he and why can he sleep in a hospital? Now this, my friends, is a man with a secret.
At 6.30 in the morning, he begins receiving text messages and phone calls from work. Apparently, there’s been a work emergency. With Amy in tow, Logan rolls over to the Halgate offices to check in. No one’s there. The place is gutted. Everything has been (cue dark, brooding music) erased.
As Logan begins trying to piece together what’s happened, his first stop is the main office. No one there has ever heard of him, or the building where he worked. There is no record of him ever receiving so much as a paycheck or having ever filled out an application. It gets worse. His Blackberry has been tampered with and no longer contains any contact info. Is nothing holy?
Fearing the worst, Logan continues to make inquiries throughout Brussels. No one knows him. His bank account is empty and shows no sign of activity. As Amy realizes the €250 may actually come in handy, a man approaches them in the bank and takes them hostage. It’s clear his intent is to clean the slate. But why? What does Logan know? Who is the assailant working for? Is there anyone, even his ex-partner Anna (played by Olga Kurylenko), that he can trust?
It’s true you will probably see every plot curve coming. After all, Erased is nothing if not derivative. And no, I’m not saying that like it’s a bad thing. But it’s a storyteller’s, and by extension a filmmaker’s, job to make ideas better, to expand on them. Otherwise, what’s the point?
It’s also true that for an actor of Eckhart’s caliber you may feel a bit disappointed by his performance as Logan. He holds his own during the film’s solid action sequences only to phone it in during any given tête-à-tête.
Kurylenko, who is fresh from her role as Juila in Oblivion, comes out strong in Erased serving up some serious Cold War dishiness. It’s regrettable that her performance ends on a flat note in the puddle of this muddy plot.
I’m also here to tell you there is an upside to Erased.
The action sequences are crisp and intelligible, by which I mean they tell us something about Logan’s character and they’re shot in a way that audiences will actually be able to see what’s happening. Action films can be incredibly beautiful when well executed. And while Erased is no Enter the Dragon, or Die Hard, or The Killer, it’s the film’s action that will have people turning out to see it.