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A strong cast cannot save the bizarrely bad thriller ‘Nomis’

Written by: Fiona Underhill, CC2K Staff Writer

Perhaps no one goes into a thriller expecting the script and characterization to be top-notch, but you certainly expect the plot to be exciting, full of twists and turns, and to propel you with an unstoppable force to its conclusion. The narrative can be ridiculous and stretch the bounds of realism, but this can usually be forgiven if the characters have some humor and the script is witty and clever. The script for any film is a delicate balancing act — the ingredients need to be just right to get the audience invested in the people, places, and events on screen. However, Nomis is lacking in pretty much all of these areas and the strong acting ensemble is not enough to paper over the cracks.

Writer-director David Raymond has assembled a surprisingly high-profile cast for his debut film Nomis. Starring Henry Cavill as Marshall, a lieutenant in the Minnesota police force and Sir Ben Kingsley as Cooper, a former judge turned vigilante, this thriller follows the hunt for a serial killer after there has been a spate of young women going missing. The killer, Simon (Brendan Fletcher) is actually identified and caught fairly early on in proceedings and that is just the start of the twists and turns, as a battle of wills takes place between him and police pyschologist Rachel (Alexandra Daddario). Rachel is also at loggerheads with Marshall (who wants to be the bad cop) and their captain, Comissioner Harper (Stanley Tucci) about how best to get information out of Simon.

Unfortunately, the characters in Nomis are given so little backstory, it is very hard to care about any of them. Cavill uses his own English accent for this role, in which he plays a cop in Minnesota. This is never once commented on by any other character and we remain clueless as to how this Englishman ended up here. There is some attempt to give him some humanity, with an ex-wife and a teenage daughter, but this just descends into cliche. Presumably Cavill’s character Marshall has been given a daughter to make him care more about one of the themes of the film, which is paedophiles grooming girls online, so they can meet up with them. This also leads to a ridiculous sub-plot involving Sir Ben Kingsley’s character – his family has been killed, which has led him to give up his job as a judge and spend his time (with seemingly limitless amounts of power and money) trapping paedophiles online, using his protege Lara (Eliana Jones). Like much of this movie, none of this is really explained – we don’t know anything about Lara or how she has come to be ‘adopted’ by Cooper. The police become aware of what they are doing – which involves reaping their own brand of bloody vigilante justice on their ‘victims’ – and they seem fine with it, as long as Cooper and Lara assist the police in this serial killer case. It is just all so ridiculous.

Mpho Koaho and Nathan Fillion play IT nerds in the cyber-division of the police, although Fillion plays such a non-character, I don’t think he even has a name. He has about three lines and is dispensed with early on and it remains a mystery as to why Fillion would want to be in this film. A vague reference is made to Rachel’s unhappy marriage and home-life (and according to Daddario, they shot some scenes with her character’s husband), but we don’t actually see any of it. We never get beyond the surface-level with any of these characters and we don’t get to know any of them well enough to become invested in their journey. None of the characters reactions to anything that happens feels believable either – one of the many ridiculous plot twists involves six cops being killed and the characters just seem to shrug and move on.

It is hard not to compare Nomis with another thriller set in a police department in Minnesota. The writing by the Coen brothers in Fargo is so good that we instantly feel, when we meet Marge Gunderson and Jerry Lundegaard, that they are real people and that we know them. The performances, with their terrific Minnesota accents also help enormously, of course. The characters in Fargo feel authentic and local – they have a connection with the location and you believe that these people are a product of their environment. It has a strong sense of both people and place. Both of these things are completely lacking in Nomis – it was shot in Winnipeg and it is only about halfway through the film, when a blink-and-you-miss-it reference is made to the Minnesota police department, that you realize that it is not actually set in Canada.

Nomis starts in exactly the same way as another recent thriller Wind River, which was equally offensive in its handling of the sensitive issues of rape and murder – with a girl in her underwear, running through the snow. The handling of the serial killer in Nomis is clumsy and borders on grotesque. Simon has mental health issues which appear to stem from childhood trauma – he is childlike and possibly has schizophrenia. However, any attempts at psychologically probing possible causes of violent crime are upended by the ridiculous twist in the film, which is the biggest pile of cliched nonsense.

This is not a great performance by Cavill, but he is given so little to work with, it seems unfair to entirely blame him. It is mind-boggling that an untested writer-director has managed to snag the likes of seasoned professionals Sir Ben Kingsley and Stanley Tucci, on the ‘strength’ of the script alone, for such thankless roles. Both Kingsley and Tucci were in an excellent comedy-thriller from 2006 – Paul McGuigan’s Lucky Number Slevin, which would be a much better way to spend your time. There is such little meat for any of the actors involved in Nomis to sink their teeth into, they are hampered in their attempts at characterization from the start. Audiences may expect a mediocre thriller, but unfortunately Nomis is even worse than that. One to avoid.

Rating: 1 Star out of 5