An opening text in this movie quotes Jane Austen’s words: “What strange creatures brothers are.” No disrespect to Austen, but Cain and Abel beat her to that universal truth, which has run through movies as diverse as “Force of Evil,” “Scanners” and “A Simple Plan.” So, this movie’s writer/director, Alex McCauley, or someone close to him, has read some Jane Austen. Great.
Set in Hollywood’s idea of semirural Middle America — a chilly, smokestack-blighted hellhole where the sun rarely shines and the fences are rusty — “Don’t Tell a Soul” follows the brothers as they purloin thousands of dollars from a nearby residence.
Both kids are knuckleheads. Joey, the younger (Jack Dylan Grazer), is the shy sweet one. Matt is the hyper, crass, obnoxious one. The British actor Fionn Whitehead plays this hardscrabble American and, as is the vogue today, leans in hard on his character’s most insufferable traits. With every pout, Whitehead seems to puff with pride, as if to say “Here I reveal yet another terrible aspect of the American Character.”
The boys steal in part to help their ailing mother (Mena Suvari). A hitch in their caper takes the form of Rainn Wilson, in security guard garb, giving chase and then falling into a well. Matt wants to abandon him there, an idea that leads to long, tedious arguments.
A plot twist saves (that might not be the word for it) “Don’t Tell a Soul” from being absolutely oppressive, merely by injecting a scintilla of “what happens next” appeal — and letting the always-interesting Wilson stretch a bit.
Don’t Tell a Soul
Rated R for language, violence, sibling fractiousness. Running time: 1 hour 25 minutes. In theaters and available to rent or buy on FandangoNow, Vudu and other streaming platforms and pay TV operators. Please consult the guidelines outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before watching movies inside theaters.