Writer Max Zorn (Skarsgard) is in New York on a publicity tour for his new novel. Despite being married to Clara (Wolff) Max uses his spare time to track down lawyer Rebecca (Hoss), a former lover he met in Berlin but whom he hasn’t seen since the wall came down. She’s reluctant to meet as time hasn’t healed any wounds but at Max’s urging, Rebecca relents to a drive to the titular Long Island hamlet where their romance once bloomed…
Adapted from/inspired by Swiss playwright Max Fisch’s 1975 memoir Montauk by The Tin Drum director Schlondorff (he shared the Palme D’Or in 1979 with Apocalypse Now) and Colm Tobin (who makes a cameo), Return To Montauk moves as if Woody Allen in serious mood penned a middle-aged Before Sunset. Dialogue-driven, the series of exchanges are dominated by reminiscence, regret and loss; their banal discussions circle what they really want to get into: what went wrong and can it be saved at this late stage? He’s desperate to give it another try but she’s all too aware they are different people now. He reckons that’s a good thing, she’s not so sure.
Schlondorff isn’t either, seeing points in both arguments. His visuals though seem to tip the debate in favour of Hoss: the cold, grey colours of the house she’s come to see with a view to purchasing, the overcast sky, and the windswept beachfront with its boarded up shops all hint that their time has passed. At one point, in a rather heavy-handed metaphor, her car gets stuck in the sand.
The dialogue might have read well on the page but spoken it can sound rather stiff, navel-gazing, philosophical (“You can type this shit, George…”) but where this slow but evenly paced drama really falls down is it can’t sell the depth of love the leads feel (or felt) for each other. Skarsgard and Hoss are game but despite their obvious talents, they can’t convince that theirs was a once-in-a-lifetime love, which is so important to making the story work. The audience is only privy to the headline notes as to why they went their separate ways, which is damning to the audience’s appreciation of their current plight and the empathy it might feel for the characters.