by Matt Wedge
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From supernatural horror films like Re-Animator and From Beyond to character-based psychodramas like King of the Ants and Edmond, director Stuart Gordon’s touch is always evident. Characters hovering on the brink of insanity, graphic violence, sexual depravity and dark humor all contribute to an off-kilter tone that lets the audience know that the man behind the camera has no interest in telling a conventional story. It creates a queasy sense of unease that helps smooth over some of the more absurd plot elements in his work. You may not be able to call what he does art, but it’s undeniably entertaining and the work of a singular filmmaker. Stuck is no exception to that rule.
Inspired by an actual tragedy, the film tells the story of two people who are going in opposite directions in life. Tom (Stephen Rea, The Crying Game) is a guy who is seriously down on his luck. A former middle-class worker who has fallen victim to the downward spiral of the economy, he is trying to hold on to his dignity even as he spends his first night living on the streets. Brandi (Mena Suvari, American Beauty) is a nurse’s aide in a senior care facility who we first meet cheerfully taking care of an elderly man who has soiled himself. She is hard working and upbeat, two qualities that seem to put her in line for a possible promotion. When she goes out to celebrate this good news with her drug dealer boyfriend Rashid (Russell Hornsby, Get Rich or Die Tryin’), she has too much to drink (not to mention an ecstasy chaser). On her way home, Brandi’s world literally crashes into Tom’s when her car slams into him as he crosses the street.
Panicked and realizing that she would fail a sobriety test, she drives home with Tom embedded in her shattered windshield. Not knowing what to do, she hides the car in her garage and decides to wait for him to die. Despite broken bones sticking out of his legs and a windshield wiper blade stabbing him in the stomach, Tom refuses to die and the table is set for the characters to fight two different battles. Brandi has to fight with her conscience as she avoids doing the right thing and Tom is literally forced to fight for his life.
Despite the pulpy set-up and the occasionally over-the-top tone of the proceedings, the film manages to touch a nerve with its subversive look at the way that everyone is dehumanized on a daily basis. This is not only shown through the way that Tom is dismissed as just another homeless loser by nearly everyone he encounters in the early part of the film, but in the way that Brandi comes to see him as less of a person and more of a problem. By a certain point in the second act, she starts referring to him as “it,” making him a thing, a problem to be disposed of. This dehumanizing element can also be seen in the way that Brandi interacts with Rashid and her boss. Rashid uses her for sex, while she uses him to score free drugs. Her boss dangles the possibility of the promotion to make her work weekends, turning Brandi into nothing more than a tool to be used how she sees fit. It never occurs to the slightly na•ve Brandi that her boss has probably used this technique several times before.
Suvari does a solid job of playing Brandi as a somewhat sympathetic woman who gets in so far over her head that there’s no way out but to become a monster. Her transition into a crazed witch by the third act is a little jarring, but it fits in with the insane tone that has been established. As Tom, Rea is slightly underused. His hangdog face is perfect for his early scenes as he is consistently disregarded and ignored by the police and the employees of an employment agency. The disappointment registers painfully on his face as he begins to accept his undeserved fate. Unfortunately, once he’s sandwiched into the car and hidden away in the darkness of the garage, he has little to do until the bleakly funny climax.
While it is pretty ridiculous at times, the film manages to achieve a nasty sense of humor about the depths that normal people will sink to when their comfortable lifestyles are threatened. It may not be push the envelopes as far as his past films have, but this is still a very solid addition to Gordon’s roster of films. It’s playing a very limited release over the summer, but it’s worth searching for.
Matt Wedge is a writer and film critic living in Chicago.
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