An occasionally taut chamber piece that overplays its hand, Laurence Malkin’s “Five Fingers” catches its digits on repetitious dialogue and sadistic mutilations bound to provoke groans of disbelief rather than winces of horror. Tale of a Dutch musician kidnapped by terrorists in Morocco takes many unexpected turns, but a low-key approach does battle with more outre elements, and the surprise denouement creates a less-than-satisfying close, no matter what one’s political stripe. The accomplished cast lends credence to the scenario, though the terrorist theme, minus strong word of mouth, may result in empty-handed returns.
Jazz pianist Martijn (Ryan Phillippe) says goodbye to g.f. Saadia (Touriya Haoud) at Amsterdam airport as he departs for her home country of Morocco with a plan to finance a food program. Accompanying him on the trip is Gavin (Colm Meaney), a loquacious Englishman hired to do security during their stay.
Once in North Africa, the two are kidnapped, waking up chained and blindfolded in a deserted warehouse where Ahmat (Laurence Fishburne) quietly watches as the hostages try to get a grip on what’s happening. Martijn’s sense of panic increases when his blindfold is removed and he watches Ahmat summarily execute the blustery Gavin.
Ahmat forces Martijn to play chess, demanding to know where he got the money to finance this supposed food program. With Martijn repeatedly protesting ignorance, Ahmat has sidekick Youseff (Said Taghmaoui) hold him down while he chops off Martijn’s pinky finger. Before the film is over, it’s clear that Martijn won’t be playing stride piano again — and that he may not be who he says he is.
In the mouths of expert thesps like Fishburne and Gina Torres, playing another associate of Ahmat’s, the constant repetition of questions takes on an air of believability, though the circular discussions could use variation. Change is signaled when Martijn develops a sarcastic sense of humor once the second finger gets removed, though it’s an odd time to be joking. Surprise twist at the end feels too improbable and manipulative to provoke the kind of thought-provoking discussions the filmmakers intended.
As a lesson in how subtle acting styles can calm a highly pitched story, pic delivers the goods. Fishburne’s quiet intelligence completely controls the film’s rhythms, and his Arab-inflected intonation is pitch perfect, down to the cadence. Torres (Fishburne’s wife), with her expressive eyes and soothing voice, is always a warm presence even when she’s playing a terrorist, while Phillippe acquits himself admirably, even down to the elusive Dutch accent.
Production design treats the warehouse too much like a stage set, artistically draping the rafters with colored fabrics and carving out pockets of action that feel more Schubert Theater than terrorist holdout. Flashbacks set at the beach are lensed with cool diffused light, a nice contrast to the warmer interior tonalities, where light and shadow are used to more atmospheric effect.