Scoundrels come in all shapes and sizes, especially when someone like Bella Baxter has been besieged by the ulterior motives of domineering men her entire life. Whether it’s her father figure “God” viewing her as little more than an experiment, the adventurous Duncan whisking her away and instantly browbeating her into submission, or even God’s seemingly harmless assistant Max McCandles (an underrated Ramy Youssef), who betroths the simple-minded Bella and pitches a fit the moment Bella announces her intentions to leave. And in a movie that steadily builds to the introduction of its most overtly monstrous figure, Bella’s spurned and cruel husband Alfie (Christopher Abbott) from her previous life as Victoria Blessington, surely Duncan couldn’t possibly stand out as the worst of them all, let alone of the entire year … right?
Wrong! Don’t let Ruffalo’s intentionally awful accent, pratfall antics, and devilish mustache distract from the abject villainy of Duncan Wedderburn. Yes, he seems innocent enough when he first meets her, offers her a way out, and pompously declares his guiding light in life: “Do not care about polite society. It’s f***ing boring. Destroys one’s soul.” Though even Bella correctly susses out that she’s hardly safe with this seductive rogue, she goes along of her own volition in order to finally experience the outside world for herself — and have a little fun of her own along the way. Duncan is the kind of man who talks of grand sights and introduces her to pleasures (bodily and otherwise) she’s never even dreamed of before, yet unblinkingly falls back on the customs of “polite society” when Bella doesn’t strictly adhere to upper-class manners at dinner. Everything he does is about exerting his will over her.
Hypocritically, the promise of freedom quickly curdles into the need for control.