In the opening of Tattoo, Karl Kinsky, a soldier on vacation in Japan (Bruce Dern) witnesses a ceremonial ritual featuring full body tattooed men in sumo loincloths and is instantly transfixed. Upon returning to the United States, specifically Hoboken, New Jersey, Kinksy, an obsessive personality, has replicated the tattoos on his body and has become an in demand tattoo artist. The permanence of the art form leaves an indelible mark on Kinsky, whose relationships with other people, including his family, are fleeting and shallow. That is until his infatuation with a model, Maddy (Maude Adams), comes to fruition when he’s hired to paint tattoos on her for a photo shoot. But then his obsessiveness takes hold.
First and only time director Bob Brooks probably envisioned this as a similar take on obsessive psychosis to Taxi Driver, and character actor extraordinaire Bruce Dern is definitely capable of such a performance; however it is just a rote variation of the fill-in-the-blank from hell thriller that Play Misty for Me made famous. While I appreciate a film that doesn’t provide all the details, I still wonder what specifically about the Maude Adams character Dern found so fascinating other than her beauty, which seems like the exact superficiality that he rejects. Consequently, after a disastrous dinner at the restaurant I also struggled to accept that Adams’ strung him along for as long as she did before finally severing ties with him, other than the plot called for it.
With all that said, things do pick up in the final act when Kinsky’s possessive instincts lead to a kidnapping. The film finally reaches the uncomfortable tension that had been building up as Kinsky rapes his infatuation’s skin not through sexual penetration but through the act of tattooing her entire body against her will. The film hints at a surprising turn of events until ultimately returning to the familiar generic thriller beats.