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By Mark Bell | January 22, 2013

After Thomas Carter (Anthony Mackie) and his brother Ben (Mike Epps) survive a car crash, Thomas becomes a popular life-coach/author, predominantly due to the success of a book Thomas writes about the incident. When Ben gets into financial trouble, Thomas is pressed to help out, in no small part due to the fact that Thomas’ book left out Ben’s presence at the crash, for reasons that are unclear at first, and Thomas doesn’t want Ben to reveal that secret.

With little options to raise the money for Ben beyond scheduling more book tour dates, Thomas, to the chagrin of his wife Maggie (Sanaa Lathan), decides to take on one-one counseling with Angel (Forest Whitaker), a man who is having trouble coming to terms with the death of his mother (Adella Gautier). Angel’s grief has caused trouble with his marriage, and he is raising his daughter Francesca (Ariana Neal) solo.

At first, Thomas goes through his normal routine, trying all his life-coach tricks to help Angel cope. Unfortunately for Thomas, Angel is a tough nut to crack, mainly because his grief is more than just internal; Angel often sees his mother in the room as if she’s standing right there.

When Thomas has finally raised enough money, he approaches Ben with it, but Ben has already solved his financial woes on his own and no longer needs it. Stuck at a dead-end with Angel, and no longer in need of Angel’s money, Thomas makes the decision to cancel counseling with Angel and refund the money. Which would be fine, except Angel isn’t done with Thomas.

Flipping their relationship upside down, Angel kidnaps Thomas and proceeds to walk him through a different kind of therapy, loosely based on Thomas’ book. Seems Angel thinks that he and Thomas are connected for a very real reason, one that is perhaps not entirely clear to both of them yet, and Angel isn’t about to let them part without getting to bottom of it all. Before the final credits, a whole slew of revelations about both men, and those around them, will be revealed.

Vipaka is a tense thriller wrapped in a slightly supernatural drama. It’s a film that may have a strong narrative framework but its true strength, as one would expect considering the cast, is the acting. Forest Whitaker is an intimidating presence on his most relaxed days, and here he’s an unpredictable mess that is alternately a loving father and a deranged son. Whether he’s a good person is debatable, but he certainly is a damaged one.

While the film does get a bit predictable, some of the connections and secrets revealed are not all that surprising, it doesn’t mean the film doesn’t maintain the proper amount of tension. Again, much of that is Whitaker just being the spectacular actor that he is, but the overall pace and tone of the piece complements the brewing anxiety. On top of that, the film has a comfortably professional look to it, even in its darkest moments.

I’m not entirely sure if I’m onboard with the film’s final resolution, but even in my most negative opinion of it, I don’t think the climax takes away from the experience of the movie, or makes what comes before it worse. I’m not sure necessarily how I would’ve liked it to wrap up, but there’s a simplicity to its ending that just seemed off to me.

Overall, Vipaka is a tension-filled thriller bolstered by great performances. Again, even in instances where I felt it didn’t come together, it didn’t damage my enjoyment of the film. Hell, even if you just watch it to see Whitaker kick a*s (again), it’s a worthy watch.

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