Jennifer Jason Leigh is as radiant and uncompromising as ever in the role of a guilt-ridden war photographer in the convoluted psychological mystery-thriller “The Moment.” This well-titled debut feature from helmer/co-writer Jane Weinstock indeed functions best from moment to moment, its characters interacting in a convincing present tense. Unfortunately, the film continually resists coherence or synthesis, with puzzles left unresolved amid multiplying possibilities and highly repetitive flashbacks, yielding a mystery that wearies rather than intrigues; as a result, none of the hypotheses offered here carries much weight or generates much suspense. Nevertheless, Leigh’s strong, enveloping performance alone should assure the film limited theatrical release.
Moving back and forth in time to deliberately confusing effect, the film opens with shutterbug Lee (Leigh) at the home of her ex-boyfriend John (Martin Henderson) to pick up her cameras. But the house is eerily empty, abandoned mid-meal, with flies and decay all around. Lee reports the disappearance, which greatly disturbs her, to a curious police sergeant (Meat Loaf); later, at a photo exhibition in her honor, she has a mental breakdown, coming out of the bathroom nude and mute.
Lee is bundled off to an upscale sanitarium by her solicitous ex-husband (Navid Negahban). There, she slowly begins to assemble the pieces of her past under the supportive, watchful eye of her psychiatrist (Marianne Jean-Baptiste, utterly credible). Lee keeps flashing back to the last evening she spent at John’s house, fearful she may have killed him, with slight variations on the same scenes suggesting different scenarios of guilt or innocence.
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The plot soon thickens with the arrival of her somewhat estranged daughter Jessie (Alia Shawkat), who resents the time Lee spends away from home covering wars, and who seems to be embroiled with all the men in her mother’s life, including fellow patient Peter (Henderson again), who bears an uncanny resemblance to John. An additional, somehow traumatic backstory — Lee’s trip to war-torn Somalia, accompanied by a beautiful woman interpreter — first intrudes at the exhibit and is later reprised at odd moments. Lee’s Somalia trip, it seems, was cut short by an explosion that sent her back, wounded, to a Stateside rehabilitation center, where she first met John.
Weinstock gets the hard part right; Leigh is totally believable as a dedicated war correspondent of depth and talent, with years of experience surviving life-threatening conditions. But the character proves less compelling by the 15th flashback or so to the same scene, particularly after Weinstock has methodically auditioned almost every member of the cast, including Leigh herself, for the role of villain.