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Originally published Thursday, June 14, 2012 at 3:02 PM

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Movie review

'The Woman in the Fifth': A Parisian tease of a thriller

Movie review: "The Woman in the Fifth" has all the elements of an intriguing, psychological thriller, but it peters out a bit too soon. Ethan Hawke and Kristin Scott Thomas star.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 3 stars

'The Woman in the Fifth,' with Ethan Hawke, Kristin Scott Thomas, Joanna Kulig, Samir Guesmi. Written and directed by Pawel Pawlikowski, based on the novel by Douglas Kennedy. 83 minutes. Rated R for some sexual content, language and violent images. In French and English, with English subtitles when necessary. SIFF Cinema at the Uptown.

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Tom Ricks (Ethan Hawke) is an American in Paris: a writer whose sole novel was published long ago, a husband whose French wife calls the police when he arrives at her apartment, a father estranged from his daughter, and a foreigner without means after he's robbed while he sleeps on a bus. In Pawel Pawlikowski's brief, intriguing psychological thriller "The Woman in the Fifth," we follow Tom through unfamiliar streets. He sleeps in a grim rented room above a bar, wears the same clothes every day (his suitcase was taken, along with his money), accepts a shady job as a night watchman in a vaguely dangerous building — all the while living in a strange combination of reality and a writer's imagination. We're never quite sure what's real; Tom isn't, either.

Working from a 2007 novel by Douglas Kennedy, Pawlikowski keeps a tight focus on the actors; we feel Tom's barely contained fury and growing despair, and see how the regal, contained Margit (Kristin Scott Thomas, her posture straight as a book's spine), whom he meets at a literary party, would seem like cool, refreshing solace. They become lovers; meanwhile, the pretty blonde who works at the bar is telling him, "I dreamed about you last night," and the vicious-looking man across the hall is becoming ever more threatening.

"The Woman in the Fifth" builds up to a satisfyingly shocking revelation in its third act, but then seems to peter out rather than ending, telling us things we could have been shown. Too bad; I wouldn't have minded a little more time with these characters, before they faded away into the gray Paris sidewalks.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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