Life – or what services as one – ain’t easy. Though we don’t like to think or speak about it, many of us have had to make compromises and/or circumvent our values in order to not so much ‘get by’ as it has been to make ends meet. While I certainly hope that all of us have stopped short of taking innocent lives, some days it’s sadly not all that hard to see folks who’ve been pushed beyond the limits of conscience into committing some of history’s most unforgivable acts. Though I personally agree with those who suggest we don’t necessarily need more conversations about evil so much as we need to once more make punishment truly fit the crime, there’s still value in presenting stories that give us more to think about … and that’s likely why films like Condition Of Return will always get made.
Part morality play and part melodrama, Condition tries to paint a portrait of a life in disarray, quietly suggesting at times that God never so much lifts one up as he puts one down to a point wherein the Devil’s all-too-willing to open his door for bartered salvation. (Never forget: it comes at a price, my friend.) Though it dabbles circumstantially in ideas of faith, belief, and spirituality, Condition is never heavy on such substance, always choosing to portray human matters in lieu of any significant soul-searching. In the end, it kinda/sorta devolves a bit heavily and darkly into irony and satire – tones never even suggested in its first half – and this unevenness hampers what could’ve been a vastly more entertaining and nuanced character study.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last few paragraphs for the final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
From the film’s provided promotional materials:
“Eve Sullivan is arrested for committing a heinous crime. Shackled in a police station breakroom, she is questioned by psychoanalyst Dr. Donald Thomas, who is tasked with determining her fitness to stand trial. In a contentious interview, Dr. Thomas persuades Eve to recount her troubling past as she slowly turns the tables, coaxing him into revealing secrets of his own and showing him they may be more alike than he thinks.”
Much like life, spinning yarns – especially those that conceal some big secret – is a game of juggling many balls.
The artist must keep an eye on all of them, knowing exactly when to catch and/or release in order to make the performance a true work of art. When the juggler is required to throw in a fourth on top of the already moving three – an attempt to both ‘up his game’ as well as startle the audience – there’s a certain deftness to the showmanship that must be considered. Doing it too soon really only creates an audience wanting more, while doing it too late might have them looking away as they grew tired with far too much sameness. Filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan – for all his positives and weaknesses – has built an entire career around knowing just when to divulge some dark secret; and I can’t help but point out that Stovall’s and Spare’s efforts here come up a bit underwhelming perhaps because they’ve so little experience in doing the same.
Despite some good efforts here by the cast, there’s just very little shock and awe – setting aside the flick’s dire opening sequence that could be pulled from any newspaper headlines – that establishes and elevates the stakes at play.
AnnaLynne McCord plays Eve Sullivan – our kinda/sorta villain whose lost her way – a bit unevenly: there are moments when I felt as if she were playing on the audience’s sympathies even though the script never has her implicitly asking for them. The life that evolves over the course of these 90-minutes needed a delivery with a bit more backwoods rawness – not unlike what Julia Garner did over the course of her evolution aboard Netflix’s stellar Ozark series – and then it might’ve been a tad more believable for this reviewer. She strives and reaches for it in a few spots, but the fact that far too much of Condition feels underplayed holds the thriller back from what could’ve been bigger and more effective ‘thrills.’
The great Natasha Henstridge – as the mysterious Liza – ends up doing what she can with the picture’s surprise twist. The actress has always oozed a kind of palpable screen sexiness, especially since her turn in SciFi’s quieter Species franchise, and I’m frankly confused as to why she hasn’t enjoyed more work in notable projects. Sadly, Spare’s script feels spare on utilizing this development – again, I’m treading lightly in spoiler territory here and trying to respect the rules – and that weakness in this story told as is will likely keep folks from appreciating the flick more. Let’s just say that I would’ve loved to see more of her much earlier in it, and the project may’ve resonated more strongly with such additions.
Lastly, Dean Cain shoulders the bulk of the everyman perspective here. His Dr. Donald Thomas is trying to do the best he can in life – for himself, for his career, for society, and for his family – and his commitment to his work ethic has apparently tied his hands with ‘getting ahead’ in his career. His role in this demonstrates what may very well be a ‘last chance’ to show the universe-at-large that he’s willing to ‘play nice to get nice,’ even though he may have to compromise an ethical consideration here or there to smooth out some professional wrinkles. What works – so far as I’m concerned – is the fact that Cain embodies his character; he’s almost effortlessly attached to being a ‘good guy trying to do good work.’ It may not show much range, but it works very well and gives his scenes the focus needed.
Condition could’ve used a sharper pair of eyes – and a savvier script – and it could’ve done equally as well.
Lastly, I’d be remiss in my duties of cataloguing All Things Genre is I failed to mention that actress McCord was honored with the title of ‘Best Lead Actress’ for her work in the film when the project was screened at 2023’s Sedona International Film Festival. Congratulations are certainly in order.
Condition Of Return (2023) was produced by Pasidg Productions, Inc. A quick Google.com search indicates that the film is presently available for streaming or purchase on Vudu.com. As for the technical specifications? Though I’m no trained video expert, I thought that the provided sights-and-sounds were all very, very good. As for the special features? As I viewed this viewing a streaming portal, there were no special features for consideration.
Despite some wild tonal inconsistencies, I suspect there’s an audience out there for Condition Of Return, even though the production has a relative ‘made-for-TV’ feel a bit too frequently. My reservations with going ‘all-in’ with it is the fact that the script wanders and meanders its narrative all too often, never truly centering in on what develops supernaturally in its second half; an earlier investment and/or more blatant suggestion may’ve given viewers the chance to be both aware of the true nature of Good vs Evil as well as watch the signs more closely. (Yes, I think that may’ve enhanced the entertainment value, but I rarely get into the weeds.) Good performances – nothing spectacular – but its players display a measure of confidence that lifts and shapes in small yet effective ways.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Stonecutter Media provided me with complimentary streaming access to Condition Of Return (2023) by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review. This contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.