Set in1966, Bruce Greenwood is Dr. Toby Green, chief of staff in a mental hospital investigating the mysterious disappearance of psychiatrist Dr. Lawrence (Colm Feore). Lawrence vanished after an appointment with Michael (Xavier Dolan), a long time patient who is believed to know the location of the missing doctor. Despite warnings from Nurse Susan Peterson (Catherine Keener), Green’s ex-wife and the health care worker closest to Michael, that the patient is a compulsive fantasist, Green dives into a cat and mouse game with the troubled young man.
“Elephant Song” is long on intrigue but short on satisfaction.
In his conversations with Green, Michael is meant to be a Hannibal Lecter Jr.—a comparison reinforced by Dolan’s slavish Anthony Hopkins impression and, “quid pro quo,” reference—an expert manipulator one step ahead of the doctor. Trouble is, his mannered delivery is artificial and most of his revelations are red herrings. His revelations feel simply like plot points to keep the action moving, without ever getting us much closer to the heart of the mystery. Later his more natural interactions with Peterson are a welcome relief from the affectation of his scenes with Green.
Greenwood and Keener do good work here, even though it strains credulity that Michael could hold such sway over seasoned pros like Green and Peterson.
“Elephant Song” is essentially a two-hander broken up with flashbacks, but director Charles Biname skilfully builds drama and tension throughout. It’s a shame that there is no payoff before the end credits roll.