What Doesn’t Kill You

Cuddly recidivism marked Mark Ruffalo’s first attention-getting role in You Can Count on Me, squirming within family ties and into our hearts. In the equally ill-titled What Doesn’t Kill You, he’s a backsliding Southie hood, passing his wife and angelic kids on the way out to petty shakedowns. Like his desperately zealous partner, Paulie (Ethan Hawke), Brian (Ruffalo) has outgrown his life, but has nothing to replace it. Ex-tough Brian Goodman, who plays their local crime boss, directs his own screenplayed memories, double-timing through the duo’s gambits and their prison stint into Brian’s recovery trudge from coke. For a “before” stage of rhino-like oblivion, Ruffalo draws on his knack for summoning an incongruous brooding bulk from within, and the result almost sucks the air from Hawke’s rangy routine of nerves and sinewy smiles. In the straight-and-narrow struggle post-clink, Ruffalo lacks rapport with Amanda Peet as the long-suffering wife. (Donnie Wahlberg, who co-wrote the script, also drives by now and again as an on-to-you sergeant.) Goodman’s movie tends to limp along, but he naturally gets Boston in winter and steers clear of Gone Baby Gone grotesques: An opening helicopter shot centers on a resolutely boring apartment building.