Quite how (or why) a superbly acted, tightly scripted crime thriller starring Hollywood stars Ethan Hawke and Mark Ruffalo has taken five years to surface in the UK is anyone’s guess.

But here is What Doesn’t Kill You, a 2008 true life caper that suffers from pacing issues for sure, but in the main proves an engrossing watch.

Starting off as though it could slide into the cliché-ridden, hackneyed ‘one last job’ format, thankfully director Brian Goodman’s effort elevates itself from that, perhaps not surprising when the true life aspects concern Goodman himself.

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Set in a tough, unforgiving part of South Boston (where it permanently snows if the film is to be believed), Hawke and Ruffalo play childhood friends who grow up on the wrong side of the tracks, carrying out small-time crimes for the local boss.

Fast forward 15 years and the pair are still low-life criminals, firmly wedged on the lowest rung of the ladder as they continue to work for boss (Goodman).

All that changes though when Paulie is jailed for manslaughter, offering the pair the chance to make a name for themselves on the Boston streets and shake off the shackles of subordination.

But, before long, a vicious cycle of drugs, murder and robbery take over – and the pair’s life of crime may come to an abrupt end.

The plot offers nothing particularly new and, as suggested in my opening comments, at times the film descends to a snail’s pace, with as much emphasis on domestic matters as any high-octane action sequences.

But what that does do is let the performances breathe, and boy do Hawke and Ruffalo deliver.

While Hawke turns in solid work as the edgy, trigger-happy Paulie, Ruffalo is the real star here, producing a truly memorable performance as the alcohol and drug addicted Brian, slowly sliding out of existence.

All that is even more painful for Brian considering he is married (Amanda Peet plays his long-suffering wife) as well as having two young sons.

As well as excellent work as individuals, Hawke and Ruffalo really work as a double act, effortlessly convincing as life-long friends.

Goodman’s direction is solid, if unspectacular, and there is the requisite grit and grime you would expect from films of this ilk.

What Doesn’t Kill You hardly shakes up genre conventions and, to be perfectly honest, I’d never heard of it before it turned up on our desk, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth giving it a go – even if it is just to take in two actors at the top of their respective games.

VERDICT: [rating=3]

About The Author

Simon Fitzjohn

Simon is a journalism tutor in London, who also just happens to be a movie fanatic, with a craving for the darker side of cinema. He has written two books, one on the horror films of director Bob Clark (2014) and the other on the history of the character Norman Bates (2015). His third book, on the work of British exploitation director Pete Walker, is due in 2017.