Monday, June 2, 2008

Rightfully Wronged

With the right amount of sleaze and dark humor with a stinging, oftentimes brutal, social commentary as an underbite, Stuck plays like a piece of tabloid journalism taken to the extreme. Director Stuart Gordon, of Re-Animator (1985) cult fame, has crafted a nasty little thriller executed with ferocious tenacity. Based on an actual event in which a nurse, Brandi (Mena Suvari), hits a man, Tom (Stephen Rea), with her car, Stuck takes its name from the strangest element of the accident: Tom’s head is lodged into the car windshield. Instead of seeking help, Brandi left him trapped in the windshield for two days until he died. This rather depressing true story is not the one that Gordon and screenwriter John Strysik are interested in telling. Rather, Stuck takes the concept of the event and plays it out so the morally inept characters receive a different, fittingly violent conclusion for their one-sided view of humanity.

All of this makes Stuck a fitting follow-up to Gordon’s little seen (and underappreciated) Edmond (2005), based on the play by Gordon's friend and colleague David Mamet. Where Edmond focuses on the nature of the beast creating beasts of nature, Stuck inhabits a world where the beasts are more singular and have little excuse for becoming the beasts they are. Brandi works at an assisted living home where she is seen early on cleaning up a resident who constantly defecates the bed. Brandi has no complaints about the man or the situation she is in. This may very well be because her boss informs her that there is a promotion with Brandi’s name all over it. This does, however, require Brandi to put in some extra effort. Although she has plans to party on Friday night, she is asked, and pleasantly accepts, to pick up a shift on Saturday. Meanwhile, Tom is kicked out of his apartment, shows up late for an appointment to place him in a job, and is forced to wander the streets to find a place to stay. Soon enough, Brandi is at a party taking ecstasy from her boyfriend Rashid and carelessly driving home to meet him, while Tom is found sleeping in a park and is kicked out by the cops. As Tom wanders across a blinking “don’t walk” sign, Brandi is on her cell phone and plows directly into him.

Although she briefly considers dropping Tom at a hospital, Brandi gets scared and drives home to meet Rashid (Russell Hornsby). She parks her car in the garage while Tom pleads to her for help. Brandi continually tells him that help is on the way, but quickly goes inside and has some crazy sex with Rashid. Amidst hearing the groans of sexual pleasure, Tom quickly realizes that no one is coming to save him. It is from this point that Brandi loses all sense of logic and becomes obsessed with finding a way to get rid of Tom, rather than trying to think of any way to help. Her moral sense of decency is demolished and it is for this reason that Stuck wants to punish her further, instead of having Tom die, Brandi being found out and heading to a trial where she would be placed in prison (the real-life Brandi received a 50 year sentence.) Tom keeps on living on attempts to escape from the car and the garage. Brandi refuses to let him go, although she is constantly reliant on Rashid to “take care of him”, something he claims to have done thousands of times.

Not enough can be said for the finely tuned, incredibly focused performances by Rea and Suvari. Despite the relative simplicity of the situation (Rea spends almost the entire film sitting in the garage) there is an amount of depth in both performances that creates an angst against the choices that Brandi makes and illustrates the humanism that defines Tom. He clutches to a picture of his son and accepts the gift of a cart from a homeless man in the park. Brandi begins just as Tom does, but it is how they react in extreme situations that makes clear who these people are and gives the script leverage to extend itself in the extreme ways that it does.

Even though Tom becomes more vicious and desperate throughout the course of Stuck, in the final act he refuses to stoop to the same lows as Brandi. Without giving away the shockingly pitch black fun of the plot details in the wonderfully melodramatic conclusion, it may go without saying that Brandi’s lack of decency leads to a relentlessness that is her ultimate undoing, both in the real life and film versions of this story. Stuck may be rewriting the history of this news story and turning it into a tabloid-like B-movie, but the method works in making the message markedly clear. Fear may make Brandi act in strange ways, but it also is not an excuse for complete disregard of human life and refusing to take responsibility for the things she has done. In the final scene when Tom cries to Brandi “What is wrong with you?” the answer has become complicatedly simple: everything.

by James Hansen

No comments: