Imagine you’re trapped in a car with a wild-eyed Adrien Brody. And you’re dressed like Halle Berry on Oscar night. Scary isn’t it?
Now erase that disturbing image from your head, and instead imagine waking up in a wrecked car in the middle of nowhere, with no recollection of how you got there or even who you are, and no clue how you’re going to get out alive.
A man (Adrien Brody) opens his eyes to find he’s seated in the passenger seat of a still smoking crashed car. Part of his body is trapped beneath the crumpled dash, his head is battered and bruised, and he can feel the steady pulse of blood seeping from his shattered leg. He surveys his surroundings through blurred eyes and sees nothing but deep forest ahead and to either side and a steep embankment behind. And he’s all alone.
Alone… except for two dead bodies, a gun beneath his seat, a hungry mountain lion, a mysterious visitor or two, and a gnawing suspicion that he may just be a very bad man.
The “single room” thriller is a tough genre nut to crack, and while the specifics are loosely defined the general conceit requires a limited number of characters in a single location for the bulk of a film’s running time. You have to go back a few years to find the best the genre has to offer including Lifeboat and 12 Angry Men, but Joel Schumaker’s Phone Booth is an underrated little gem as well. The most recent and somewhat high profile example is Rodrigo Cortés’ Buried. That film is ballsy enough to run from beginning to end with nothing but Ryan Reynolds stuck in a coffin, and for the most part at least it succeeds in being a well-crafted and suspenseful affair. It falters more than a little in the third act though when an absurd phone conversation deflates much of the tension and a highly unsatisfying ending kills whatever was left.
Wrecked rarely reaches the intense high-points (or low-points) of Buried and instead trades them for a far more consistent tone throughout. It opens up the breathing space a bit and lets Brody’s character escape the confines of the car for a brief crawl into the surrounding woods, but it still manages to find several stretches of suspense as the mystery unfolds and the man struggles to survive. That mystery is the key to the film’s success in that it’s not simply a story of physical survival, but also one of discovery. How he got into this situation is just as important as how he’s going to get out of it.
The mystery and the ongoing threats facing the man’s life propel the story forward, but it’s Brody’s engaging performance that carries the weight of it all to some fairly palpable extremes. Long dialogue-free stretches allow the viewer to explore the scene with Brody, and his weary eyes and battered face allow us to feel it. The wet, the cold, the fear. Above all else is the uncertainty of who he is and what he’s done. Clues big and small appear to catch his attention and ours… a news report about a bank robbery, a vaguely familiar woman in the woods, a nagging feeling of guilt, and more all work to re-form his memories.
Brody has found himself in an odd place since winning his Oscar for The Pianist nine years ago. It garnered him a couple years of high profile lead roles but he soon settled back down to smaller films, and the past two years have seen four of his seven releases go straight to DVD (or receive very limited theatrical runs). He’ll never make a convincing romantic lead or action hero, but he excels here as a man capable of being many other things. We don’t know what that is exactly and neither does he, but Brody turns small touches in Christopher Dodd’s script into strong moments of humanity. One of the best finds the man digging into a package of mints to satiate his hunger and the humorous realization that “I hate mints!” The dog he’s talking to is not as amused.
Wrecked is a solidly refreshing thriller that is far more of a mental game than an action film, and the ending is highly satisfying as it avoids the obvious while wrapping up main story threads and teasing some darker possibilities. This sympathetic character slowly regains his memory at the prodding of his conscience, and the viewer is right there as his struggle is both aided and hindered by his and our imaginations.
Wrecked is currently available On Demand and has just opened in limited theatrical release.
The Upside: Solid mystery; successfully weaves suspense and pathos; Adrien Brody holds the attention; satisfying ending
The Downside: One man show so if you don’t like Brody you won’t like this; is this cougar just gluttonous or is he responsible for feeding the whole forest?
On the Side: The filmmakers searched for the most annoying song possible to play on the car’s radio and Tiny Tim’s “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” was the result. If only this had hit the web sooner!