Michael Shannon, leagues ahead of even this exultantly talented cast, nails it again in Matthew Ross’ new romantic thriller.

Frank (Michael Shannon) loves Lola (Imogen Poots). Frank is a struggling chef. Lola is a struggling designer. They live in Las Vegas, happily, until complications from Lola’s past threaten to upend it all.

A not unfamiliar premise is vibrantly brought to life by the more than able cast. Shannon, no stranger to quieter, understated roles, even in the passing sequences revolving around his aspiring career heralds more ardour than the entirety of Bradley Cooper’s misfire Burnt or like efforts.

A pivotal confrontation between Shannon and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’s Michael Nyqvist, something that could just as well have been laughably executed in the hands of a lesser actor is instead one of the most involving, compelling scenes in the film, only to one-up itself as the tension between Frank & Lola gradually escalates and the stakes of Frank’s profession are raised.

A twisty thriller with enough to keep you interested as the actors run rings around its content, Poots provides so much of Frank & Lola’s emotional backbone, depicting the most oblique character in a performance thankfully not overstated nor played for melodramatic effect. Accordingly, Ross builds the tension between players not through one or more emphatic moments but by drip-feeding us elements of their dynamics, allowing audiences to slowly realise the scale of the drama rather than have it thrust upon us.

Versatile performer Justin Long proves much more than a potential screw in the works and benefactor to both Frank and Lola, himself introducing the liveliest elements to several scenes. All in all, the film comes down to Shannon’s and Poots’ shared charisma and there’s not a sequence between them that doesn’t wreak of affection, abrupt tension or emotional havoc.

A character piece superbly executed, the sterling premise too does deft justice to Frank & Lola’s well-assembled, thrilling cast.

Frank & Lola screened as part of the Melbourne International Film Festival – for tickets head to the Festival website