Both a romance and a detective thriller, Decision to Leave is one of the best movies of the year.
Decision to Leave‘s cinema showing opens with a message from director Park Chan-wook, speaking directly to the audience. He details that his film will be both a murder mystery and a romance, and hopes we enjoy the watch. It’s a humble introduction, as the Oldboy director has come out with one of the best films of 2022.
Equal parts detective thriller and romance, Decision to Leave follows Hae-joon (Park Hae-il), a detective investigating the death of a man who fell off a cliff on a rock climbing trip. A clear suspect is Seo Rae (Tang Wei), the victim’s wife, but Hae-joon finds his investigative skills blighted by a growing obsession for the alluring widow. What follows is a complex and multifaceted thriller, but first and foremost, a heart-wrenching and beautiful blend of forbidden love and voyeuristic obsession.
Playing fast and loose with the concept of continuity editing, the film is far more concerned with using its visuals to better connect with Hae-joon than going for overall visual realism. Rather than simply observing the action, the film utilises stunning cinematography and editing through which we are transported into the mind of our protagonist. During his stakeouts of Seo Rae, his binoculars almost act as a window into his mind, with these scenes turning from him simply watching her, to him being in the room with her. Furthermore, the switch from a more sleek cinematography style to a handheld camera in order to highlight the initial romantic connection is simple yet effective. These are a few standout examples, but each shot throughout is brimming with meaning and personality.
Decision to Leave takes inspiration from classic noir films in its characters, with the jaded, experienced detective and the femme fatale being film noir staples. Hae-joon and Seo Rae are not simple stereotypes though; they are expertly written characters whose relationship is explored deftly by Park Chan-wook and his actors. Both Park Hae-il and Tang Wei are fantastic. Their chemistry is electric, with their wordless interactions alone providing depth to not only their relationship but also their characters.
Like all good films of this genre, Decision to Leave is packed full of mystery, which leaves audiences doing some detective work for themselves as they try to figure out the resolution. It is a slow burner of a film, but with the intricate blend of the multifaceted central relationship and underlying mystery, this is not a negative. It’s an extremely well structured film which less capable directors may have ended before reaching the third act. However, it is here that the story deepens – leading to a visceral gut-punch of a finale.
Decision to Leave earns absolutely everything it portrays throughout its runtime. An expertly crafted story with visuals that dial the creativity up to one hundred, it also provides a wordless insight into the characters’ psyche. I have already found myself looking at cinema times planning a rewatch. Run, don’t walk, to your local cinema for this one.
On MUBI and in Cinemas now.