Jan 17, 2008

DVD Review: Pierce Brosnan In Shattered

After giving an amazing, career-best performance in Richard Shep-herd’s The Matador and squaring off against Liam Neeson in the interesting and beautiful but little-seen Western Seraphim Falls, Pierce Brosnan’s post-Bond career hit a low-point when his latest star vehicle (which he also produced) bypassed U.S. theaters altogether for an unceremon-ious direct-to-DVD release courtesy of Lionsgate. On top of that, its name was changed from the provocative Butterfly On A Wheel to the generic (but still Stones-related) Shattered (a title used not too long ago for a Bob Hoskins flick) and slapped with some equally generic (and awful) box art. Still, I held out hope that it might be a good movie. Seraphim Falls, after all, played so briefly and in such limited release that it practically went direct to DVD (yet was still good), and even The Matador had terrible cover art when it was first released, designed to make it fit in with the latest Steven Seagal efforts. Sadly, Shattered is no Matador. It might be a low budget indie, but its plot is just as generic as any paint-by-numbers Hollywood thriller–or its own cover art. The performances, though, are all fine, and director Mike Barker does a good job of stretching his budget, so I can’t imagine this is any worse than Bruce Willis’ last "erotic thriller," and that didn’t go directly to DVD!

The plot of Shattered hinges on several twists, and while I won't reveal any of them, and really don't venture far into any spoiler territory, it's impossible to discuss it without revealing some of the plot. So, spoiler-sensitive, beware!

Shattered is basically an Unfaithful-type domestic drama forged onto a Firewall-type family-in-peril thriller. Top-billed Brosnan is introduced in a very cool helicopter shot that swoops in over Chicago, angles down for a direct overhead view of rooftops, finally flying over Brosnan’s Tom Ryan on one of those roofs. Still in one seemingly continuous take, the camera swings around him for a view of Ryan surveying the city through binoculars. The director reveals in his commentary track that it is, in fact, several different shots cut together, but the editing is pretty flawless (I couldn’t detect those cuts) and the overall effect is impressive. After that impressive opening, however, we’re treated to fifteen minutes of setup designed to show what a perfect life married couple Abby and Neil Randall (Maria Bello and one-time "next Bond" favorite Gerard Butler) enjoy. That perfection seems forced from the get-go, though, and these happy domestic scenes make us long for Brosnan to show up and inevitably start disturbing this placid perfection. Right at the fifteen minute mark, he does. (And the camera gets all unnecessarily jumpy to make sure we notice.)

Apparent psycho Tom Ryan pops up in their back seat brandishing a gun, and takes control of the couple’s lives. He hands his cell phone to Abby, letting her know he’s got their daughter (thanks to a babysitter in cahoots). They must do as he says or she’ll be killed. When Neil offers him everything they’ve got, Ryan quotes that exact figure and takes him up on it, forcing both of them to withdraw the money at their nearest bank branch. In a nice surprise, Ryan lights a match to their life savings and throws the burning briefcase out the window into the Chicago River, explaining he’s got "money to burn" and thus making himself more threatening, when the couple realize he isn’t after their cash. What does he want? Ryan puts Neil through the ringer wondering exactly that as he sets him on a series of perilous tasks and a few moments of effective suspense.

In one chillingly erotic scene in which Ryan forces Abby to strip down to her underwear, Brosnan and Bello demonstrate some palpable chemistry, which is rather welcome since she and Butler have none. Of course, there’s a reason for that. As the interloper puts them through this fearsome ordeal, Neil and Abby are forced into some rather obvious moments of self-examination and various stages of response. They fight, they reconcile, they repeat, and it comes as no surprise to an audience who sat through their forced bliss at the beginning that all is not as perfect with this couple as it seems on the surface. More compelling than the marital drama is the mystery of Ryan’s motives and identity, made especially so during one scene in which he and Neil accidentally encounter the kidnapper’s teenage son.

It’s tough to discuss the film’s final act without treading into spoiler territory, but the fact that it has a twist will hardly surprise frequent viewers of this genre. Suffice it to say, the twist is decent (and must have seemed like a good idea on paper), but the filmmakers seem to believe it’s a lot more clever than it really is. By the time the reveal actually happens, most viewers won’t care enough about these characters anyway, and a lot probably will have figured it out already. Then there’s yet another twist on top of the first twist, one that’s more predictable but not as good. The final confrontation between the male leads is also kind of a letdown, especially between two such good actors as Brosnan and Butler. It briefly touches on some homoerotic overtones between the men that might have worked (better than it did in the recent Sleuth remake) had they really gone for it, but they shy away instead.

The DVD actually provides a fairly generous quantity of special features for such a low-profile release. There are two short deleted scenes (one with Brosnan) that are good to see but wouldn’t have added anything to the movie. There are also a few extended scenes, including a good one with Brosnan and an interesting alternate credits sequence, boasting temp chyrons like "Production Company" and "Actor," as well as the film’s original title. There’s a four-minute "Hero To Villain" featurette about Brosnan, which mostly consists of the other actors and production personnel saying nice things about him (or joking, as when Butler reveals, "He’s the devil!"), and generally acting like he’s never played an antagonist before (The Fourth Protocol, anyone?). Brosnan himself chimes in, "You don’t expect me to be playing that kind of character," and that’s probably exactly why he did the picture.

The title of the longer making-of featurette, "Breaking Apart the Wheel," again refers to the film’s original title, making the new one seem like a real afterthought. This documentary contains serious spoilers from the very beginning, so don’t watch it before you see the movie. Everyone’s interviewed: Brosnan, his producing partner Beau St. Clair, Barker, screenwriter William Morrissey, and other members of the cast and crew. They all basically do their best to explain the movie you just watched, as if it were so subtle that it needed explanation. (It’s not.) One interesting thing is that nearly everyone in front of and behind the camera is from the British Isles! Strange that this movie ended up set in America...

The best special feature is a commentary track with Barker and Morrissey. The writer is very pompous and full of himself (in the agreeable sort of way that makes for good audio commentaries) and the director is modest and unassuming. Both are charming, and neither seems fully happy with the film, which is rare on such a track. They share a good mixture of behind-the-scenes gossip (including the fascinating story of how each actor got involved and how the whole project came to be made) and technical information on how certain shots were achieved. Overall (and despite a few quiet patches), the audio commentary is more compelling than the movie itself! These guys are surprisingly candid, happily revealing moments they’re less than thrilled with and reserving some particular negativity for Gerard Butler’s wardrobe.

Lionsgate may have (slightly unfairly, given the star power involved) dumped the movie onto the home video market, but at least they put together a quality DVD under that horrid artwork! Don’t waste your money buying it, but it could be worth a rent for die-hard Brosnan fans as long as they don’t expect another Matador or Tailor of Panama. I am such a die-hard fan, and I wish him all the best in the future. I hope he gets back on track soon with more of those high quality pictures that really showcase his considerable talent. Of all the projects on his plate, I’m most excited for The Topkapi Affair (Thomas Crown II) and Spy Vs. Stu, which sounds like it offers the former 007 with a good chance to send up his past masters. Shattered may have been a slight misstep, but I have no doubt he'll be back on track soon!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Movie sucks