Tenderness movie review: Lori (Sophie Traub) is a miserable teenager with a laundry list of troubles. To escape from her pain, she fantasizes about Eric (Jon Foster), a juvenile murderer about to be released from prison. Eric has a lot on his mind as he reenters society, with hopes that his spirituality will lead him down a path of good. Running away from home, Lori tracks down and joins Eric as he embarks on a road trip to meet a particularly tempting acquaintance (Alexis Dziena). Initially hesitant, Eric soon takes an interest in Lori, desperately fighting his instinct to kill her along the way. Making sure Eric behaves is Lieutenant Cristofuoro (Russell Crowe), the cop who originally arrested Eric and remains convinced he’ll kill again.
“Tenderness” elects a dreamlike structure to develop its cast of characters, striking an unsettling tenor of potential horror to step inside the minds of these shattered people, each confronting problematic urges that will surely lead them to catastrophe. It’s not exactly a mystery, despite the question mark of Eric’s depraved behavior. Instead, director John Polson (“Swimfan,” “Hide and Seek”) looks to study the three main players, searching to understand what drives them into vicious situations, and how they battle to retain a sense of normalcy while their domestic situations and shattered lives compel them to reach for ruin.
Adapted from the novel by Robert Cormier, “Tenderness” is a delicate psychological examination that handles more significantly standing perfectly still than it does when time comes for thriller mode. The shades of doubt are handled properly by the cast, and the film is most confident observing the havoc within Eric as he forces himself to bury his homicidal itches, while Lori gingerly takes on this former killer as if he were a teen idol -- waiting for a return of affection that will whisk her away from her familial troubles. Polson doesn’t always understand where to steer the story, but he expresses agitation superbly, building an askew logic for Lori and Eric that keeps them together, bonding over their evildoing secrets. Cristofuoro is a supporting player, but Crowe projects a heavy sense of professional duty that drags the character along the interstates, on the hunt for a boy he refuses to forgive.