Sam Ellis is a man on the rise — a hot-shot federal prosecutor on the cusp of a bright political future. But what was meant to be a one-time experience with an escort turns into a growing addiction — a new demon threatening to destroy his life, family, and career.
"For an erotic thriller it's pretty short on both thrills and eroticism."

At the time of writing this review, it's barely three weeks since a contender to become Prime Minister dropped out after being caught up in a sexting scandal; just one since a colleague of his missed out on a ministerial position because he was caught in an extra-marital affair. "Most MPs are risk takers," said the former (according to The Times). Although most of us would like to think our countries are being run by people with good judgement, there's no denying that politics attracts people with an appetite for danger. For many people attracted to power, taking chances and getting away with it is the ultimate thrill - perhaps because it's so easy for things to go wrong.

Sam Ellis (Patrick Wilson) doesn't start out in politics. He's a high flying lawyer who likes to imagine himself as a champion of the oppressed, or at least as a good man, not the sort of man who would give in to the solicitations of wide-eyed intern Dalia (Dianna Agron). But the presence of a high end escort in the office, connected with one of his cases, gives him ideas, and when wife Jeannie (Lena Headey) is out of town with their small son, he makes a fatal phone call. Weeks later, when his passing interest has become an obsession, he is invited to enter a senatorial race.

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Reckless is pretty transparently based on the case of Eliot Spitzer, the New York governor who got out of his depth with escorts in 2008 (and who is now facing darker allegations), but Wiilson makes the character his own, and his refusal to play for sympathy - even as his character does so - that gives the film its edge. This is important because - aside from a wonderful performance for Headey who really brings the film to life but is in far too little of it - it doesn't have much else. This is partly down to how it has been promoted: for an erotic thriller it's pretty short on both thrills and eroticism. Director Mora Stephens may be deliberately trying to shy away from the latter. She's trying to walk a line between illustrating Ellis' desires and inviting us to see the young women he sleeps with as real people, distinct from their fantasy image. In most of the US, of course, sex work is illegal, so there's an extra layer of risk involved both for Ellis and for them - and they have far fewer choices.

The problem with all this is that none of it is really new and it ends up a little too close to the long tradition of B-movies and TV specials that has tried to have their cake and eat it, decrying sex work whilst filling the screen with as many scantily-clad young things as they can get away with. It's only really Wilson's performance, so distanced that it gives the impression he's really more attracted to the risk than the sex itself - which saves it from this fate. The film also suffers when it gets a little too cosy with better work on similar themes. A couple of sequences look as if they have been lifted shot for shot from Shame. Stephens would have done better to build on her comparison between sex work and politics, rather than saving it for a ineffectual twist.

Whilst it's interesting to see a woman take on a topic more commonly explored by men, the degree of cynicism present here - especially when it comes to Jeannie's choices - undermines the sense of individual agency key to a successful feminist analysis of the issue. What remains is intellectually shallow and emotionally as empty as intended. It's recklessness played far too safe.

Reviewed on: 22 Jul 2016
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Reckless packshot
A high flying lawyer develops a habit of using escort services, putting his marriage and career in danger.

Director: Mora Stephens

Writer: Mora Stephens, Mora Stephens, Joel Viertel, Joel Viertel

Starring: Lena Headey, Alexandra Breckenridge, Elena Satine, Dianna Agron, Patrick Wilson, John Cho, Penelope Mitchell, Ray Winstone, Richard Dreyfuss, Christopher McDonald, Christopher Heskey, Christian Oliver, Patrick Kearns, Daniela Lavender, Judd Lormand

Year: 2015

Runtime: 103 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

Festivals:

Sundance 2015

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