A theatre production stretched to fit on a movie screen, Elephant Song is a humdrum psychological thriller.
But it's a good workout for a talented cast, including Quebec wunderkind director-actor Xavier Dolan as Michael, a game-playing psychiatric patient in a battle of wits with Dr. Green, a troubled shrink played by Bruce Greenwood. (The title refers to Michael's obsession with elephants, one of several elements that suggest the influence of Peter Shaffer's Equus.)
Director Charles Binamé (Séraphin: Heart of Stone) brings a pleasingly muted cinematography and meticulous mid-sixties institutional design to Nicolas Billon's 2004 play, but otherwise conforms to its stage-bound roots.
The main action takes place over one afternoon, following the abrupt disappearance of a psychiatrist, Dr. Lawrence (Colm Feore), who was last seen by Michael. As chief of staff, and non-practising psychiatrist, Dr. Green decides to investigate rather than call the police, on the shaky justification that the hospital can't afford a scandal.
Minutes into an interview, it becomes obvious Michael knows a great deal more about Dr. Green's tragic history than the doctor knows about the patient. Green and nurse Peterson (Catherine Keener) negotiate the quick emotional shifts expertly, and Dolan is entirely credible as a smug, mommy-obsessed (again?) arch manipulator with deep psychic wounds.