The Woman in the Fifth (15)

Starring: Ethan Hawke, Kristin Scott Thomas

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The Independent Culture

Pawel Pawlikowski has been lying low since he made the terrific My Summer of Love in 2004. The Woman in the Fifth indicates a new tenor in his work, and I wish I could say it enhances his reputation.

Adapted from the novel by Douglas Kennedy, it shapes up as a realistic drama before making a knight's-move into an identity conundrum. Ethan Hawke plays Tom, an American writer having a bad time in Paris: his estranged wife won't let him see their six-year-old daughter, and he's just had his suitcase stolen. Without a sou to his name, he blags a room in a cheap hotel, and via the proprietor takes on a mysterious security job.

Paris has seldom looked as drab as it does here, all grey dishwater skies and concrete walkways to nowhere. Tom, mooning about the city like a ghost, sways between the attentions of Kristin Scott Thomas's elegant literary translator and Joanna Kulig's kindly Polish waitress. "I feel like the real me is somewhere else," he says. "The me that's here is a sad double."

So what exactly is going on? Has Tom done in the lout next door for not flushing the communal loo? Do they really charge for drinks at Parisian literary soirées? The film, seemingly poised for revelation, begins to fold in on itself, its narrative boobytraps mistimed and muddling.

The prospective thriller stalls, and we're left to wonder how much of the intrigue is for real, and how much is in Tom's head. Hawke, so good as the American in Paris of Before Sunset, makes an unhappy return here – even for a writer he looks vague and even a bit gormless. Scott Thomas's part, a mere cartoon of chic, is unworthy of her. It's all quite a disappointment.

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