There’s a definite feeling with Return to Sender that person(s) behind the scenes have strategically positioned this film in order to cash in on the considerable success and critical acclaim that surrounded last year’s Gone Girl. Now, there’s nothing wrong in that, using another offering as a platform to boost your own, but it does raise the whiff of suspicion that maybe there was a reason why this film was made back in 2013 but is only being released now. That reason, regrettably, is that this one isn’t that good.
Rosamund Pike stars as a hard-working nurse with aspirations of becoming a surgeon. Cue some predictably jovial hospital worker cohorts and various introductory scenes to establish her character which never really make it clear if she is liked or not. Pike’s American accent feels awfully familiar to those who saw her Amy Dunne; this performance serving, possibly, as a feature length casting call to bigger and better things.
Nick Nolte plays Pike’s father and huskily growls his way through his scenes with the usual intense gravitas but surprisingly turns out to be the pivotal performance; the only solidly consistent and coherent cog in what is an otherwise tonally meandering and ever-changing machine. Nolte shows, albeit at times admittedly hard to understand, the softer side that lives beneath the many hardened layers of his veteran grizzle. And it’s quite affecting, seeing such a familiar powerhouse (just watch 48 Hrs. again) displaying a more sensitive bent and channelling it with control and relative finesse, turning out to be among the only treats on offer.
Unfortunately it’s that word ‘predictably’ that ultimately gobbles up any semblance of originality or impact this story feigned to conjure. Pike is established as neurotic to the point of displaying obsessive compulsive behaviour; she is popular, talented and attractive but essentially alone. She has a blind date set up for her but when a man, Shiloh Fernandez, turns up early at her house things rapidly spiral out of control, resulting in a life-shattering and irrevocable incident.
Pike’s relationship with Fernandez is the crux of the whole film. And it falls flat and foul of a disingenuous emotional connection. The turning point between them feels oddly empty and not the momentous change of gear you would expect from all the build up that preceded. It’s paced poorly and stitched together incongruously, leaving everything feeling trite and hollow. All the pieces of the puzzle are in the right place but the picture they resemble just isn’t that impressive. The finale, in particular, is a conundrum. Although plausibly powerful in its succinctness, you can’t help but just want a bit more from it. Just as it gets interesting they lower the curtain!
With glimpses of something worth watching and Rosamund Pike on screen, it’s not all bad. Return to Sender could have been an adequate TV movie from a bygone decade. As it is, it’s average to the point of being disappointing.