×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Backtrace’

Matthew Modine is outstanding as an amnesia-stricken bank robber in Brian A. Miller's VOD-centric thriller.

Director:
Brian A. Miller
With:
Sylvester Stallone, Matthew Modine, Ryan Guzman, Meadow Williams, Tyler Jon Olson. Christopher McDonald, Sergio Rizzuto, Colin Egglesfield, Swen Temmel.
Release Date:
Dec 14, 2018

Rated R  1 hour 27 minutes

“You can’t kill me! I died seven years ago!” It’s very much to the credit of Matthew Modine that he persuasively sells this melodramatic scrap of dialogue, and every other aspect of his trickily written lead character, in “Backtrace,” a better-than-average VOD-centric thriller that likely wouldn’t work nearly so well without the veteran actor’s totally committed performance. Sylvester Stallone and Christopher McDonald are along for the ride, but in roles that keep them largely consigned to the sidelines until the inevitable climatic shootout. Throughout most of the movie’s running time, Modine is tasked with the majority of the heavy lifting, and he handles the burden admirably.

Of course, he does get a little help from co-stars Ryan Guzman, Meadow Williams and Tyler Jon Olson, cast as conspirators who smuggle Modine’s character, MacDonald, out of a prison psychiatric ward. Seven years earlier, MacDonald and two equally hard-pressed buddies robbed a bank and then stashed what they considered to be their fair share of the $20 million haul before a rendezvous with partners in crime. Unfortunately, the partners took unkindly to this division of spoils, and expressed their displeasure nonverbally. The ensuing shootout left MacDonald’s buddies dead, and MacDonald himself comatose due to a serious head wound.

Eventually, MacDonald woke up — but with a bad case of amnesia. Still hazy after all these years, he’s unable to tell police detective Sykes (Stallone), FBI agent Franks (McDonald), or anyone else where the loot swiped during the bank heist remains hidden. Ultimately, it’s up to a fake security guard (Olson), a shady nurse (Williams) and their smooth-talking collaborator (Guzman) to free MacDonald, inject him with an experimental drug, and jog his memory by taking him on a tour of locations tied to his forgotten past. Periodically, director Brian A. Miller (“Reprisal”) and scripter Mike Maples cut away from their progress, usually to show Sykes and Franks intently monitoring the manhunt for MacDonald, bickering over jurisdiction, and more or less daring the audience to guess which one of them isn’t all that he seems.

Popular on Variety

“Backtrace” moves at a satisfyingly brisk clip, and actually manages to spring a surprise or two without unduly stretching credibility. Editor Thomas Calderón enhances the suspense during a few key scenes with shrewdly calculated cross-cutting, while lenser Peter A. Holland keeps things visually interesting even while shooting in such clichéd locations as a police squad room and an abandoned factory.

Modine dominates each scene in which he appears, and a few where he doesn’t, as his character struggles to make sense of literally painful memories. Still, he doesn’t entirely overshadow the capable efforts of his fellow players. Stallone is a standout — big surprise, right? — largely because he and director Miller smartly exploit his stature as a weathered icon to add depth, or at least gravitas, to a fuzzily defined supporting role. Unfortunately, even Stallone is unable to add much oomph to the disappointingly flat final scene, the only significant flaw in an otherwise efficiently workmanlike B-movie.

Film Review: 'Backtrace'

Reviewed online, Houston, Dec. 12, 2018. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 87 MIN.

Production: A Lionsgate Premiere release and presentation in association with Grindstone Entertainment Group, Emmett Furla Oasis Films and Diamond Film Prods. of an Emmett Furla Oasis Films production in association with Dreamscape Prods. and The Fyzz. Producers: Randall Emmett, George Furla, Mark Stewart, Ambyr Childers, Matt Luber. Executive Producers: Alex Eckert, Ted Fox, Vance Owen, Mark Lawyer, Martin Richard Blencowe, Simon Williams, Christelle Conan, Arianne Fraser, Delphine Perrier, Henry Winterstern, Sam Slater, David Bernon, Scott Carmel, Sergio Rizzuto, Marc Goldberg, Noel Ashman, Bryan Brucks, Wayne Marc Godfrey, Robert Jones, Meadow Williams, Swen Temmel, Barry Brooker, Stan Wertlieb.

Crew: Director: Brian A. Miller. Screenplay: Mike Maples. Camera (color): Peter A. Holland. Editor: Thomas Calderón. Music: Tim Jones.

With: Sylvester Stallone, Matthew Modine, Ryan Guzman, Meadow Williams, Tyler Jon Olson. Christopher McDonald, Sergio Rizzuto, Colin Egglesfield, Swen Temmel.

More Film

  • Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) is

    AACTA International Awards Nominations Favor 'The Irishman'

    Netflix’s “The Irishman” garnered the most nominations for the Australian Academy of Cinema & Television Arts International Awards. It picked up six nods, ahead of five for “Once Upon A Time in Hollywood,” and the four each for “Joker,” “Bombshell,” and “Parasite.” AACTA’s international awards seek to “(honor) the best achievements in film excellence, regardless [...]

  • Prince Dead

    'Purple Rain,' 'Clerks, 'She's Gotta Have It' Added to National Film Registry

    “Purple Rain,” “Clerks,” “She’s Gotta Have It,” “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” “Amadeus,” “Sleeping Beauty,””Boys Don’t Cry” and “The Last Waltz” are among this year’s additions to the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress. The list also includes 1944’s “Gaslight,” starring Ingrid Bergman in an Oscar-winning performance; the 1955 film noir “The Phenix City Story,” [...]

  • 6 Underground

    Michael Bay's '6 Underground': Film Review

    If “6 Underground” were opening in theaters, you’d want to be sure to get there on time. Within the first six minutes, Michael Bay destroys a plane, a motorcycle, three cars, countless pedestrians, and the dignity of three Italian nuns. I’m fairly certain that Ryan Reynolds — who heads up the film’s off-the-grid vigilante squad, [...]

  • Juliette Binoche (L) and Catherine Deneuve

    Macao Festival: Juliette Binoche Tells 'The Truth' About Acting

    It’s hard for Juliette Binoche to think about her recent career trajectory from a bird’s eye view as she hurtles along within it. She has put out five films in the past two years. Her latest is Hirokazu Kore-eda’s French-language drama “The Truth,” which is getting her Oscar buzz for her role opposite Catherine Deneuve. [...]

  • Kathy Bates Walk of Fame Honor

    Kathy Bates Erroneously Submitted for Lead Actress in SAG Awards Race (EXCLUSIVE)

    If dark horse awards contender Kathy Bates is absent in the best supporting actress category come tomorrow’s Screen Actors Guild Award nominations, don’t be too quick to put in on her performance in “Richard Jewell.” A clerical error was made by the Clint Eastwood film’s distributor Warner Bros., an insider with knowledge of the mixup [...]

  • Kasi LemmonsNew York Women in Film

    Kasi Lemmons, Jane Rosenthal, Ann Dowd Talk Golden Globes Female Director Snub

    The absence of women among director nominees for the Golden Globes is another example of how much work remains to be done to achieve gender parity in the entertainment industry, honorees said Tuesday night at the 40th annual Muse Awards presented by New York Women in Film and Television. “Harriet” director Kasi Lemmons, “The Irishman” [...]

  • Queen & Slim

    How 'Queen & Slim' Production Designer Karen Murphy Mapped Out the Duo's Route

    “Queen & Slim” is a social commentary packaged as a film, beginning with a bang. It kicks off when Queen (Jodi Turner-Smith) and Slim (Daniel Kaluuya) shoot a police officer in self-defense and find themselves on the run. Slim somewhat innocently thinks his action will be justified in court, but Queen, a weathered prosecutor, knows [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content