Based on the off-Broadway Sam Shepard play of the same name, "Simpatico" is a film about the legacy of past sins-- guilt, betrayal, and ultimately, redemption. Tony-winning director Matthew Warchus, in his feature film debut, brings together an impressive cast headlined by Jeff Bridges ("Arlington Road"), Nick Nolte ("The Thin Red Line"), and Sharon Stone ("Gloria"). Unfortunately, despite possessing a somewhat interesting circular narrative, "Simpatico" is a long-winded, lethargic, and uninteresting psychological drama.
The film takes us into the multi-million dollar world of horse racing, the domain where Lyle Carter (Bridges) has made a fortune as a championship breeder in Kentucky. Out of the blue, in the midst of completing the sale of his finest stallion Simpatico, he receives an urgent call for help from his old friend Vinnie (Nolte), the disheveled wreck of a human being whiling away his days in Cucamonga, California. After catching the first plane out to California, Carter is asked by Vinnie to help him deal with an accusation of sexual harassment being filed by a supermarket checkout girl (Catherine Keener of "Being John Malkovich"). Though Carter is suspect about Vinnie's request, he feels compelled to help his friend.
Why? Through a series of flashbacks, it is revealed that Carter and Vinnie share a long and unsavory past from when they were involved in a horse racing scam and the blackmailing of a racing commissioner (Albert Finney of "Scrooge" fame). While Carter eventually went on to prosper from these illicit activities, Vinnie has spent the past two decades been torn apart by the guilt. Stealing the car and return airplane tickets from Carter, Vinnie sets off on a cross-country quest to right the wrongs of his past-- which may include some incriminating photographs that Carter has tried very hard to keep under wraps.
While "Simpatico" seems to have the makings of a decent psychological drama/thriller, it ends up stumbling more the further it gets along. The primary problem is that most of the conflict in the story is internalized, and there are few, if any, external forces that are motivating their actions or escalating the consequences of their actions. The characters of the film are not necessarily in any mortal danger or trying to outrun the law-- instead, they are coming to grips with their past actions, and their reasons for such are dubiously presented. And when the script does its 'big reveal', showing the audience what all the fuss is about with all these characters, it is an anti-climactic moment that doesn't satisfyingly answer the questions posed during the long and torturous build-up.
Narrative issues aside, there are some decent performances to be found in an otherwise unremarkable film. Nolte and Bridges, despite being saddled with characters possessing murky motivations, are interesting to watch, especially with respect to how their characters gradually switch places (even though the logic behind such a switch is more dramatic license than plausibility). Finney does wonders in the role of a disgraced former racing commissioner who has spent a long time burying his past, while Keener is engaging as a checkout clerk with a kind heart but prone to panic attacks. As a younger Vinnie, Shawn Hatosy does some fine work, which is quite a far cry from his recent roles in "Outside Providence" and "Down to You". Unfortunately, Stone, despite a headline and pivotal role, is wasted as Carter's miserable wife, a walking and talking cliché.
"Simpatico" may have worked better on the stage, given its talky and introspective nature. But as a feature film, it is an uninteresting and somewhat implausible time-waster that is saved only by some decent performances. Lacking tension, convincing drama, and a sense of urgency, "Simpatico" should be put to sleep.