Now available on DVD
Josh Lucas as Terry
Lena Headey as Elizabeth
Brian Cox as Phillip
Dallas Roberts as The Surgeon
Ulrich Thomsen as Dr. Lethe
Directed by Michael Cuesta
The pedigree behind the camera leads one to believe that Tell-Tale was not initially intended to quietly go direct-to-DVD. Based on Edgar Allan Poe’s classic “The Tell-Tale Heart,” Tony and Ridley Scott are two of the producers while acclaimed TV (Dexter, Six Feet Under) and indie (Twelve and Holding, L.I.E.) director Michael Cuesta is at the helm. Unfortunately, regardless of original intent, the final product is perfectly suited for a DVD premiere.
Single father Terry (Josh Lucas) has recently had a heart transplant. It doesn’t take long for him to experience intense, debilitating visions. Curious about what is going on, he steals his donor information and discovers that the heart he received came from a man who was murdered in a burglary gone wrong. When he recognizes a paramedic from his visions, Terry pays him a visit and asks him what he knows. This does not end well for said paramedic.
Investigating the donor’s death leads Terry to the detective on the case, one that remains unsolved. Phillip (Brian Cox) is tormented by the crime, which also resulted in the donor’s wife’s death. He is intrigued by Terry and seems to share more information about an unsolved double homicide than a detective normally would.
Meanwhile, he is also trying to woo a woman named Elizabeth (Lena Headey). She is his sick daughter’s doctor and has long had a crush on him.
Needless to say, Terry is soon distributing vigilante justice. Being near someone involved in his donor’s murder sets off the visions. When he encounters them he disposes of them, with some assistance from the detective. That he somehow continues to get away with this is highly unlikely since he really has no idea what he’s doing and tends to off people in very public places. It doesn’t help that Lucas gives a bland, sometimes lethargic performance and never makes Terry remotely believable as a killer (or a single dad for that matter).
The central mystery concerning the true nature of the crime that led to Terry getting a new heart is not nearly interesting enough to generate dramatic tension. It plays out in a perfunctory manner and fails to spark even a little suspense. It’s all very blah.
None of this is surprising given the screenwriter and number of producers. David Callaham gets writing credit (the DVD box credits Poe but the movie’s credits don’t for some reason). He is responsible for Doom and Horsemen. Just as problematic is the number of producers. Twelve people get an executive producer or producer’s credit. That is a lot of cooks in the kitchen and that could not have helped Tell-Tale in the long run. It often feels like there are big chunks missing. Two separate sequences in particular, featuring The Wire‘s Michael Kenneth Williams and Pablo Schreiber, respectively, are cut so quickly and awkwardly (one actor never even speaks if I remember correctly) that there had to be parts missing (the bare DVD has no extras at all).
Cox gives an animated and entertaining performance, and it comes to life near the conclusion after the truth is finally revealed, but neither factor can overcome a boring and unconvincing lead performance, much less the choppy storytelling that plagues 90% of the movie. Neither thrilling nor scary, Tell-Tale hints at something pretty dark near the end, but until then it has a bit of an identity crisis and by then is almost over. Too little, too late.