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Archive for March, 2012

Stuck (2007)

Sunday, March 4th, 2012

Directed by: Stuart Gordon

Everyday people with everyday jobs can still act like monsters in the name of self-interest; that’s the take-home message of the gruelling thriller Stuck (2007), a film which unfairly went somewhat under the radar on its release five years ago. It certainly deserves more attention: perhaps its subject matter, being so closely based on a real-life criminal case, was just not palatable to audiences, or perhaps its genre-straddling nature just made it difficult to place. In any event, this is one of the most tense pieces of filmmaking I have seen in years, and although its emotional weight makes it as far from a simple piece of entertainment as it is possible to get, it is a worthwhile undertaking.

First things first – this is a film for our times. Anyone who’s ever been unemployed and had to deal with the shit thrown at them by the ‘officials’ meant to be helping, or with crook landlords, or with exploitative bosses, will heave a great sigh at scenes within Stuck; that peculiarly grimacing 21st century world of officialdom and of penury in the great developed world is all in there, meticulously realised without being sentimentalised. This drew me in from the outset. The fact that Stuart Gordon and co-writer John Strysik have such a strong handle on this allows the development of two strong, believable and, in the case of female lead Brandi Boksi (Mena Suvari) ambiguous main characters.

See, Brandi works a tough job as a nursing home assistant. It’s dirty, it’s frustrating, and she does it uncomplainingly. It seems she’s considered good at her role because her boss is dangling the proverbial carrot of a big promotion in front of her, if she’ll just unquestioningly give up her Saturday off of course…

Brandi could argue the point, but she really wants that promotion. After all, we’re only ever one step away from what has just happened to a man called Tom Bardo (Stephen Rea), who we meet next - jobless, penniless, and now homeless, we first meet him fleeing his lodgings for a soul-crushing and painfully well-observed encounter with the labour board. Where can he go? He’s not even allowed to sleep in the deserted park that night, and is re-directed to a nearby Mission. That’s where he’s going when he encounters Brandi, who is drunk-driving home having had her Friday night out regardless of work the next day. She’s high, she’s not watching the road properly and she hits him head on, in a horrific slow-motion sequence where Tom is pitched through her car windscreen…

Her first reaction to this is to being intoning, ‘It wasn’t my fault’. This, folks, is Brandi’s fatal flaw, and the rest of the film is an examination of the selfish impulse – that desire to protect one’s own interests, at all costs. It’s not easy to stomach. Utterly unable to take responsibility for what has happened, she fails to render aid to the man now bleeding to death half in, half out of her windscreen, and this failure escalates and escalates in a gripping, agonisingly tense and hard to watch sequence of events.

If you think that this all sounds far-fetched, bear in mind that the screenplay is based on a real crime and that, in fact, the screenplay has moments of vindication within, which the Chante Mallard case definitely did not. Chante Mallard was a nursing assistant too, and she too hit a homeless man so hard that he became embedded in her windscreen. So far, art imitates life. What happened next was – she drove the car back to her garage, promised the man she would get him help, and then left him there. To bleed to death, which he did, slowly, over the next two to three days.  Of course, a simple retelling of this would be even darker and more hopeless than what we do get to see, but there’s a current of anger in Stuck about this case - as there should be – and as such, Gordon/Strysik allow themselves to explore what might have happened, perhaps even allowing the real deceased – a man called Gregory Biggs – a moment of redemption which was not allowed him in life. Nonetheless this is a very bleak film, and its portrait of unfairness is so strongly delineated that it was at times painful for me to watch. That anger was infectious, too. When Brandi’s dealer/boyfriend Rachid (well acted by Russell Hornsby) visibly relaxes when she tells him she hit a homeless man rather than anyone ‘who matters’; when she lies to Bardo about helping him; when anyone feels it better to take care of their own petty interests than save a dying man….the heaviness of that is quite something, because we recognise it. That ‘It’s not my fault’ or ‘It’s not my problem’ is a modern battle-cry and here we see it taken to its extreme conclusion – and it ain’t pretty.

I’m laying on the hyperbole here, I know, because I genuinely found this to be an affecting piece of cinema. As a grim, tense take on some unpalatable modern truths, I don’t think it has been bettered. Stuart Gordon shows that he can turn his hand to suburban nightmares here as well as his defining deadpan, often Lovecraftian horror. It is a real pity that this film – which was due to herald the rebirth of Amicus Productions – hasn’t led him to do more work of this kind, as much as I love his other style too. So I do recommend Stuck – but be forewarned, it might just stay with you for a while after…