Well-paced and genuinely tense, Stephan Rick’s The Good Neighbor is a familiar kind of thriller. Based on the premise alone, it’s easy to see how the plot will unfold, even when one actually begins watching the film. Miraculously, though, that doesn’t do much to undermine the suspense Rick steadily builds over its runtime. This isn’t a movie that breaks new ground, but there is something to be said about the enjoyment that can come from traveling a well-trodden road, even if the journey has some flaws. The Good Neighbor struggles with convenient plot points and inconsistent characterization, yet is still a thrilling ride thanks to its menacing lead.
American journalist David Stevens (Luke Kleintank) has recently moved to Riga, Latvia for a shiny new job. What first seems like a glorious opportunity to get away from the hurts of his past takes a nightmarish turn one night while out with his charismatic neighbor Robert (Jonathan Rhys Meyers). While heading home after connecting with a beautiful woman at a club, David hits the very same woman with his car, killing her. David and Robert work to keep the tragedy under wraps, something that becomes very complicated when the woman’s sister Vanessa (Eloise Smyth) starts digging for answers. As David gets closer to Vanessa, Robert’s darker side comes out as he seeks to maintain his hold over David.
Thrillers live or die on their pacing and The Good Neighbor smartly moves along at a rather steady clip. Rick co-wrote the screenplay with Ross Partridge (which was based on an original screenplay by Rick and Silja Clemens), and save from a stretch near the middle where the action shifts into a lower gear, The Good Neighbor unravels its story at the right kind of speed. David has just begun to settle into a happy life in Riga when the accidental murder takes place, and even though it’s clear something is going to go wrong, the sudden shock of David’s brief flirtation dying hits with the right intensity. However, there are some elements to the murder that feel a touch too convenient when examined closely; for example, Robert, who works as a visiting nurse, has a client who lives down the road from the crash site, thus allowing him to gain new insight into the investigation.
Another aspect where The Good Neighbor struggles is David himself. To his credit, Kleintank plays David’s shifting demeanors well, but it is hard to tell whether the movie wants the audience to sympathize with him or eagerly wait for his misdeeds to catch up to him. Immediately following the accident, David is wracked with guilt. A natural reaction to killing someone, to be sure, but then he gets involved with Vanessa. Rick does seem to realize the murkiness of such a relationship, yet there is a romanticized sensation that coats David and Vanessa’s later interactions, as though viewers should be rooting for them despite everything. Rick and Partridge don’t show David properly struggling with whether he is doing the right thing. In fact, his guilt seems to subside for a bit, making a later moment where he flashes back to the murder feel shoe-horned in just to reestablish his uncertainty. Considering how Vanessa herself seems to falter in her characterization near the end of The Good Neighbor, the way the entire affair is executed comes across as a misstep.
If there is an MVP of The Good Neighbor, it is most certainly Meyers. Portraying both charm and danger, Meyers makes for a compelling villain. Rick plays to Meyers’ strengths, allowing the camera to focus on him for moments that, with anyone else, might play as innocuous. It’s clear from the moment he is introduced that Robert has hidden depths. And while The Good Neighbor doesn’t fully delve into them, Meyers brings them to the surface through his physicality and demeanor. As another key component of the story, Smyth elicits sympathy for Vanessa, a determined sister left stunned in the wake of the sudden death. She makes for a fierce presence, even though The Good Neighbor is more interested in the twisted dynamic between David and Robert. To be sure, that thorny relationship is deeply intriguing and fuels much of the urgency within the film.
Ultimately, The Good Neighbor does exactly what it sets out to do: It’s an entertaining thriller with at least one very interesting character at its center, making for a solid viewing experience. If there is anything that will linger in the minds of audiences, it is bound to be Meyers’ chilling performance. The Good Neighbor will likely appeal to anyone who wants some old-fashioned suspense. Though it holds flaws, they can be easy to overlook when one is engaged enough.