Three friends set off to Malaysia for a holiday. When two return early they receive a phonecall. The third has been arrested for possession of their stash of marijuana and will be executed unless the other two travel back and share the blame.
Vince Vaughn impressively exploits a rangy role in a compelling moral dilemma drama. He's not alone; the principal cast is uniformly credible, vital to sustaining the gripping premise.
Unusually, the suspense is internal, with characters talking through a crisis of conscience - less surprising when you know Bruce Robinson's screenplay, gutsied-up by Wesley Strick, is based on a 1990 French film, Force Majeure.
Two years after three Americans buddied up for a carefree adventure in Asia and then said their adieus on an idyllic Malaysian shore, disillusioned smart alec Sheriff (Vaughn) and decent, successful, about-to-be-married Tony (Conrad) are located in New York by desperate lawyer Beth (Heche), who drops a bombshell.
Back at the beach hut, sweet and gentle Lewis (Phoenix) was arrested for sole possession of the trio's collective, abandoned stash of dope and charged with drug trafficking. He never implicated his friends, but in a week he's going to be executed. If Sheriff and Tony give themselves up in Penang to share the blame and imprisonment, Lewis will live.
The film's victory is that the viewer is drawn into self-examination, pondering such a predicament and sharing the characters' intense deliberations. First one, then the other, vacillates, with tough nut loner Sheriff's soul-searching and reversals a mite too protracted, given that the title suggests we'll all get there eventually.
Plumping out the plot are romantic complications, the media factor in an obnoxious journalist (Jada Pinkett Smith) keen to forment a cause at no risk to herself, and the courtroom confrontation where no one can risk the urge for a Capraesque monologue.
Nevertheless this packs a devastating emotional punch, especially when Phoenix's shockingly altered Lewis re-takes the stage. Doubtless the Malaysian Tourist Board won't appreciate the indignation directed at their legal system, but the where is nearly beside the point in a well-conceived contemporary morality play that actually forces you to think about it later and survey the personal boundaries of moral responsibility.
A gripping modern morality tale with a credible cast and a compelling premise. The film is heavy on self examination and will make you think: what would you do?