Friday, October 12, 2007

Chicago Film Festival: Stuck

Stuart Gordon's Stuck trumps even The Darjeeling Limited as the most prophetic title of the movie year so far, initially strutting around with a real, punchy amorality before bogging itself down into stalled, repetitive dramaturgy. The movie increasingly assumes the stance of a transfixed but inarticulate bystander to its own premise, rather than using that premise as an aperture into revelation of character, accumulation of suspense, or persuasive ethical reflection. The opening sequence, a long steadicam shot through a garishly lit nursing home, throbs with the first of several interpolated hip-hop tracks by DJ Honda—titled, naturally, "Get on Your Job"—thus tipping viewers off that even though Stuck was financed and filmed in Canada, this ain't Away from Her. This sequence soon finds American Beauty's Mena Suvari sporting dark cornrows and toting a tray of sick-looking jello as she smilingly administers to her patients. Despite her kind demeanor, the film obviously has darker thoughts in mind, and if the coiled rap and skulking camera weren't enough to signal a storm warning, even the quaaluded viewer will take note of the literally explosive title credit and the dispatch with which Suvari's nurse Brandi finds herself wiping up the nastiest pool of #2 incontinence in recent screen memory.

Nasty shit and the raw shock of having to clean it up is what Stuck is all about, and though subtlety of simile is never where director Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator) or screenwriter John Strysik set up shop, the movie barrels and bristles along through its first half-hour. Like the blazing first acts in one of Samuel Fuller's underbelly thrillers, like The Naked Kiss or Shock Corridor, Stuck draws potent energy and giddy overstatement from Suvari's germy and menial duties, from the scene where her smiling-piranha boss dangles a promotion in front of her to secure her "volunteering" for weekend labor, from the Ecstasy pills and alcohol that soon permeate the movie's system as well as her own, even from the low-fi cinematography with its steamy streets and tight orientation around faces and moving bodies. Meanwhile, the parallel montage patently forecasts a fateful encounter between, on the one hand, Brandi and her drug-dealing boyfriend Rashid (Russell Hornsby) and, on the other, middle-aged Tom (Stephen Rea), whose tense eviction from his apartment is itself interrupted by a violent, offscreen squabble upstairs, allowing him to abscond with a heap of his white-collar clothes before heading out into the nightscape of Providence, Rhode Island (actually Saint John, New Brunswick). In their last hours of leading separate lives, Tom and Brandi both narrowly avoid hitting or being hit by other cars on the road, which might read as an early symptom of Stuck's simplistic propensities if the movie weren't, at that point, absolutely thriving on the certain foreknowledge of its crisis and on a poetics of pure impact rather than an ethics of depth or an aesthetic of cleverness. The same principle redeems the episode where Tom, sadly ensconcing himself on a park bench for the evening, is approached by Sam (Lionel Mark Smith), a veteran and apparition of the foggy streets who rolls his clanking shopping cart in silhouette like the Ghost of Christmas Past. Smith's own powers of prediction ("I'll be seeing you again...") cannot be doubted, because Stuck has already shown itself to be the kind of movie where mystical street prophecies will be ratified by life, though the timing and nature of how Sam's vision comes true seems titillatingly up for grabs.

We don't have to wait long to find out. When Brandi, addled by narcotics and distracted by her cell phone, plows right into Tom as he crosses a seemingly empty street, the movie palpably clicks into place as the movie it wants to be, like a loaded barrel being snapped back into a gun. Soon enough, while two policemen who lack any peripheral vision whatsoever book old Sam for vagrancy, he espies Brandi's car careening through the streets with Tom's abdomen and legs still protruding from her windshield onto her front hood. The associated thrill for the audience is structural as well as visual: having already played the imminent card of a second exchange between Tom and Sam (albeit a one-sided one), the narrative horizon stands totally open. As one of Stuck's characters will shortly espouse, "Anybody can do anything to anyone at any time," and though he intends a moral as well as a practical pronouncement about The Way We Live Now, he also gives voice to the machinery of the script. Who will survive this grotesque incident? Who will intercede as savior, witness, accomplice, or undertaker? When, if at all, will Tom regain consciousness? When, if at all, will Brandi's Darwinian impulses to save herself and to doom her desecrated victim be countermanded by a higher moral calling? And why are the choreography of the accident itself and the relative proportion of Tom's headfirst penetration into the cab of Brandi's car so sloppily shot and carelessly edited? Click here to read the rest, including spoilers and reflections on a Q&A with the filmmakers...

Photo © 2007 Rigel Entertainment/Amicus Entertainment

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Blogger Brian said...

I was at the Stuck screening, and thought your question was an excellent one - I found your blog via googling around about the festival. Gordon didn't seem to understand your point. I liked the movie a lot more than you did, and despite the hypocrisy of that "it's just a movie!" comment, I think it's more or less the right mindset, to view the film as a nasty, entertaining little modern exploitation film.

12:35 AM, October 15, 2007  
Blogger randomcha said...

Ah well, we shall have to agree to disagree. Nevertheless it was cool to see it (and all the other stuff) alongside you. I'm sorry I missed the "Irina Palm" screening. Life intervenes, as you said. Drop me a line when you can! "On the Beach" awaits!

8:52 AM, October 15, 2007  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Jimmy Jazz: Thanks for such nice words, and welcome to the blog! (There's much more content on the main site, linked from the sidebar...) I take your point about Stuck as a nasty exploitation flick, which is just what I was hoping it would be, and what I thought it started out to be, but I was annoyed that the movie kept making gestures toward going even deeper than that without following through, and that the filmmaking got sloppy enough that (for me) it lost its punch as exploitation.

@Rob: Yeah, we sure crossed signals on this and Hallam Foe, but let's assume we'll find more common ground later! (Oh, and thank yourself for missing Irina Palm...yikes!)

10:28 AM, October 15, 2007  

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