As traffic violations go, this one is a keeper. Driving home one night after partying with friends, professional care giver Brandi Boski (Mena Suvari) pays more attention to her mobile phone than to the homeless guy jaywalking in front of her. He comes right up through the windscreen – or at least the top of half of him does. His legs remain outside on the hood.
Shocked and scared – and thinking about that promotion her boss is waving under her nose – Brandi keeps driving. She gets as far as the local hospital and chickens out, then drives right on home and puts the car in the garage. The guy, Thomas (Stephen Rea) is bleeding but conscious. She promises to call for help. Then she goes inside, tells her boyfriend/dealer that she’s been in an accident, but neglects to mention the victim is now adorning a hole in her windscreen. Then they have sex…
Amazingly, all this is based on a true story. Mind you, filmmaker Stuart Gordon has fleshed it out with some gusto, especially as events unfold over the next day.
Gordon remains best known to film fans for the outrageous cult horror Re-Animator (1985) – a sequel is in the works, apparently – but he’s actually a renowned theatre director too. His take on this story is robust and intelligent, funny and very grisly.
The first sign that we’re not just watching some TV movie of the week comes very early on, when we see Brandi at work. An elderly patient has soiled his bed. She helps him up and wipes him down, and Gordon doesn’t flinch from showing us the shit. This seems to be a recurring theme this week – but unlike in Slumdog Millionaire, the scene isn’t funny. It’s gross out, but essentially realistic. It’s there to let us know that this movie isn’t going to let anyone off the hook – and to show us that Brandi isn’t all bad. In fact she’s a sympathetic and patient nurse – albeit the last person you would want to bump into late at night.
This early scene is mirrored by our introduction to Thomas, who is having the worst day of his life. We see him get evicted from his room for non-payment of rent, then wasting hours for a pointless meeting with a petty bureaucrat at the employment office. As played by Rea he’s an ordinary guy just down on his luck. Way, way down, as it turns out.
It’s true that in Gordon’s version of the story Thomas has extraordinary fortitude. But if he sticks around longer than you might think, it’s not just to pump up the blood quotient, it also ups the ante of the drama, tightening the ethical screws on Brandi, who goes into heavy denial rather than admit to a terrible moment of madness.
I don’t think it’s reading too much into this simple scenario to suggest that it reflects America’s own denial of torture practices in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. If you’ve seen interviews with the guards at Abu Ghraib in the documentaries Standard Operating Procedure and Taxi to the Dark Side you will recognise the moral vacuum where Brandi’s conscience should be.
The movie isn’t, you know, subtle. Gordon pushes it all to the extremes of black comedy. A scene in which Thomas strains to reach Brandi’s phone, abandoned on the front seat, despite the shard of glass cutting into his belly, will have half the audience shrieking – whether in pain or laughter may be hard to distinguish. My own favourite sequence involves a fluffy little dog – at first you think it’s going to play Lassie, but the mutt winds up closer to Cujo.
Not for the faint-hearted, Stuck is perfect late night viewing. Watch it with your mates and see if everyone stays the course. Then drive home safely.
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