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Godsend (2004)
Director: Nick Hamm

review by Alasdair Stuart

After their son Adam is killed in a tragic accident, Paul and Jessie Duncan are distraught, until Richard Wells, an award-winning doctor, approaches them with a proposition; he can clone Adam and give them their son back. The price they have to pay however is to relocate to an isolated town where Wells can monitor Adam as he develops.

It's difficult to see what went wrong with Godsend, certainly when you look at the cast. Greg Kinnear is a gifted serious actor as well as a comedian, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos is a strong female lead, Robert De Niro truly needs no introduction and Cameron Bright, based on his performance here and in the similar Birth, is a gifted child actor. All four never get worse than competent and yet Godsend simply doesn't work.

The first half hour hangs together well, with the Duncans' home life being portrayed in a way that is both realistic and affecting. This is a simple, affluent family who love one another and love spending time together and Adam's death, when it happens, is all the more tragic for that. Likewise, De Niro's appearance is excellent. He's cornered the market in morally dubious but eloquent older male leads recently and this is no exception, his Richard Wells an articulate, sympathetic and at the same time disturbing presence in the Duncans' lives. There's a Faustian element to his proposition, trading their lives for their son's second life and it, and the Duncans' attempts to work out what to do are all well played.

The problems really begin when Adam approaches the age he died at. At first the script handles this well, as Adam begins having nightmares in which a boy with his face is blamed for something terrible and his reflection begins yelling at him. Again, Bright, Kinnear and Romijn-Stamos play this well, Kinnear in particular as he struggles with the ethical problem of their choice and what it could mean for Adam. However, as time goes by, the script simply loses its way. The two parents argue over what to do about Adam in an utterly stereotypical manner just as De Niro shifts up a gear from morally dubious to quite clearly evil. There was some pulp entertainment to be had here as the parents try and defend their child from the increasingly fixated scientist but instead the film concentrates on Adam's gradual descent into homicidal madness. This is again, stereotypical, giving Bright little to work with. In fact, most of the final half-hour of the film is given solely over to Kinnear who obediently drives around the city unearthing parts of the plot.

Unfortunately, it doesn't help. The reason for Adam's nightmares and murderous tendencies is, even in this context, ridiculous and drags suspension of disbelief to breaking point. The final revelation simply doesn't work and the Duncans' willingness to move their murderous child to a new neighbourhood is nonsensical. To top things off, the ending is an utterly off-the-shelf '...or is it?' final shock that falls absolutely flat.

Godsend is a waste of its four leads, an interesting idea executed in a way which never gets above entertaining and is often less than that. A missed opportunity, it's not a film I'd recommend.
Godsend

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