In these tough economic days, not only are our wallets getting squeezed, but - up on the big screen - so are our leading men. Lately they've really been feeling the pinch. Three times in the past few months, the movies have dirtied up a pretty boy and pinned him down in the tightest of spots: Ryan Reynolds literally boxed up in Buried, James Franco trapped beneath that boulder in 127 Hours. Here, in Wrecked, it's Adrien Brody's turn to find himself the lone and immobilized star of an emerging new genre: Call it the anti-action flick.
Of course, entrapment scenarios have a long history in literature and film. Freedom is always battling with confinement, whether in an actual jail cell, or a locked room, or a storm-tossed lifeboat, or merely behind the existential bars of an imprisoned mind. But these recent pictures are especially claustrophobic, their frames narrowed to the point of near-suffocation. Check out the opening sequence in this one: darkness, silence, then the sound of whimpering punctuated by an extreme close-up of an eye, bloodied and badly swollen.
From there, Canadian director Michael Greenspan pulls back the camera only in small and gradual degrees, shining just the tiniest shards of light into the predicament, letting it unfold in intriguing increments. The eye belongs to a battered face that we see, with a shock, only when its owner does - when Brody's unnamed Man examines himself in the rear-view mirror. Yes, he's trapped in the passenger seat of a wrecked car, an early-model sedan that's lying in a woody thicket at the bottom of a steep cliff. His right leg is broken, the door by his side is jammed, rain is falling, and night too.
Morning brings no greater clarity because a concussion has apparently robbed him of his memory. The Man doesn't know who he is, or how he got there, or the identity of the clearly dead person in the back seat, or of the other male body flung from the car and lying nearby, the one attracting the attention of a hungry mountain lion.
In short, the guy's in an extreme pickle and doesn't have a clue. But we do. Doling out the info in steady drips, the script is efficiently filling us in on the dimensions, physical and psychological, of this messy situation.
But how to dramatize inertia? Flashbacks and hallucinations are helpful. That was Danny Boyle's preferred method in 127 Hours, and there are samples of both here. However, since an audience soon gets wise to these tricks, the plot is smart to add a nifty twist. Under the front seat, the Man finds a loaded revolver, and over the fading radio hears a news report that three men are wanted for armed robbery. So, à la Buried, a mystery thriller gets embedded in the entrapment narrative, and fluidly the two genres begin to blend.
The problem starts when a third genre is added. Eventually, the Man extricates himself from the car, fashions a crude splint for his leg and crawls into the deep, dark woods. At that point, the movie becomes a survival adventure complete with piercing hunger and numbing cold and faulty navigation and lethal rapids on a raging river, not to mention the return of that predatory lion. All this seems excessive, gilding the predicament's lily, and for us no less than the protagonist, fatigue and tedium set in. Ironically, when non-action gives way to action, stasis to movement, the film gets stuck, marking time until the climax.
Happily, there are a couple of consolations. One is certain: Brody's performance. Obviously his experience in The Pianist taught him to negotiate long sequences without dialogue in a confined setting, and he's applied those lessons here - his face alone is a chameleon that commands our attention, shifting quixotically from fear to anger to despair. The second consolation is debatable: the merits of the ending. I'll leave you to decide whether the surprise resolution, which comes fast, gives the picture back its momentum or simply continues the stall.
Sorry to hedge, but to me both conclusions are possible and defensible. Indeed, ambivalence is something of a watchword in the recent entrapment yarns, which share more than their cramped quarters. Somehow, they all seem simultaneously compelling yet vaguely unsatisfying, clever but with a slight residue of disappointment, like a parlour game played a little too long.
Still, I'm not complaining. In all those empty blockbusters, the big screen swells pointlessly; at least in these narrow spaces it shrinks with a real purpose. Far better the tight squeeze than the big bloat.
- Directed by Michael Greenspan
- Written by Christopher Dodd
- Starring Adrien Brody
- Classification: 14A