Sunday, January 6, 2008

Shattered...the Review (*****/10)

The working title for the new film Shattered was Butterfly On a Wheel. That would have been a better title, because it would have made no sense. The inclusion of the phrase in the movie also makes no sense. The full quote is "who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel", and it comes from a poem by Alexander Pope called "Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot", which is a true classic in the world of poetry. In it's context in the poem, it refers to an enemy of Pope's. His doctor (Dr. Arbothnot, it would seem) had warned him about the dangers of composing poems that attacked his peers in society, and so Pope responded by sending him a series of poems that attacked these people. The line, used in it's proper context, refers to a wheel, the medieval torture device, which seems excessive when used to destroy a butterfly, and exists as a testament to the cruelty and excessive nature of one who would do such a thing. As my friend Kent used to say "it's like swatting a fly with a Buick".

In it's context in the movie, the line is meant to be taken differently. Gerard Butler and Maria Bello play a married couple with a charming young daughter, who is captured by a sociopathic Pierce Brosnan, who holds her for ransom. Before long, it becomes clear that Brosnan is not in this for money, but rather for some kind of personal vendetta against this family. He will kill their daughter, you see, unless Bello and Butler jump through all kinds of hoops. It sets up a Sophie's Choice-style dilemma...what would you do to save your child? Would you kill an innocent person? And other such light-hearted fare. The quote from Pope comes up again and again, but it is fairly misused. The idea behind it in the film is that this couple are the butterfly, and are so insignificant to Brosnan that he can toy with them, as he would a butterfly upon a wheel. And he is so cruel crazy and evil that he is willing to toruture them in this excessive way. This seems to be the correct interpretation of the quote. However, the twist at the end changes things, and the quote all of a sudden becomes terribly misused.

Ah, yes. The TWIST at the END. I can't review this movie very well without giving away the ending, and I am tempted to do so because this is one of those irritating by-the-numbers twist-ending movies. I will not, because I'm sure some people will watch and enjoy this. But there have been so many movies made in this style, especially since the success of The Usual Suspects. And there have been many that were better than Shattered. Derailed was better than this movie. Here's the problem with this twist ending. The director paid a lot of attention to the mechanics of the twist. He went into the movie knowing the ending, and made sure that if you watch the movie again, the right things happen at the right time. It all makes sense mechanically. Yes, that guy could have said that thing to that lady while the other guy was over here. Fine. But the emotional reactions of the people involved are not so closely monitored. Knowing what we know (at the end, and maybe quite a bit earlier), the reactions of the key people in key situations are not what they should be. And the contrivances of the plot, which seems (at the end) to have been so meticulously planned out, seem so forced. If one of the characters involved did anything, at certain points, other than what they actually did in that situation, the whole plan could not have proceeded as it did.

I know, this all sounds so vague. If that guy and this guy had talked to this guy instead of that guy...this is because I think people might actually watch the film and enjoy it. And there are some good things to work with here. Maria Bello is terrific in her role as the terrorized mom, and Gerard Bulter has moments of great acting as well. But overall, this is simply an obvious, pain-by-numbers BIG TWIST movie, where the twist at the end becomes the only reason any of the movie was ever made. And that is obnoxious. Imagine...Eric Clapton going through the motions on Layla just so he could get to that piano part.

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