There might be a familiarity about the drama What Doesn't Kill You, but it's rendered with feeling to everyday life in South Boston.
Starring Mark Ruffalo, Ethan Hawke, and Amanda Peet, this gritty picture with a limited audience plays as a worthy companion piece to John Shea's Southie. That film's rising lead actor, Donnie Wahlberg, here is a co-writer and plays a nosy investigator on the trail.
Director Brian Goodman, who also collaborated on the script, seems like he's been in the business much longer than his body of work indicates. The edgy opening is rather intense when an armored-car theft leaves Ruffalo's Brian and longtime friend Paulie in a tattered state.
The plot, also concocted by Paul T. Murray, is entangled in the respectable and troublesome folks, including Brian and Paulie, from their childhood to their desperate adult lives. Paulie is a single guy and Brian is married to Stacy (Amanda Peet) trying to raise two boys.
Goodman's Pat is the hard-boiled type who rears Brian and Paulie into a life of small-scale crime such as "cleaning out the backs of trucks". Their "errands" for Pat also continue into occasional shakedowns.
Paulie becomes more independent-minded in wanting to get away from Pat's firm hand in their monetary gain, but the insecure, drug-addled Brian puts his family life in jeopardy in a series of mishaps. One riveting sequence hospitalizes Brian as Pat is a menacing type who won't go way. Paulie's "last score" that dovetails the opening after petty larceny underscores the difficulty to escape a life of crime and calls to mind Sidney Lumet's shifting, notable Before The Devil Knows You're Dead.
What Doesn't Kill You is sharply grounded in the city's mean streets, as it's clear, at least from the dialogue, that Goodman knows how people talk to one another and the familiarity of those within those neighborhood blocks.
Goodman is cogent and low-key as a dark underworld type, as Peet and Hawke invest their characters with confidence into struggling folks connected to Brian. Ruffalo gives depth to a man who's seen life around him change after his prison time in a correctional facility. It exceeds his recent work in recent dramatic fare like Reservation Road.
The picture makes good on its wintry setting and the score is moody enough to prove involving with a straightforward crime drama that is more domestic in nature than one thinks.