You might have heard of Chante Jawan Mallard. In 2001 while intoxicated on drugs and alcohol, she knocked down a homeless man called Biggs and got him stuck in her car's windscreen. That's bad, but not the worst bit. Mallard neither notified the police nor any hospital, but instead simply drove home and parked the car in her garage. Two days later, Biggs died. Four months later Mallard was heard talking and laughing about this at a party, so now she's now doing fifty years in jail.
Maybe once a generation, someone will do something so unimaginable that they enter popular culture, like Jack the Ripper, Ed Gein or Sada Abe. Mallard isn't quite in that league, but she's still inspired episodes of "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" and "Law & Order", plus nods and sub-plots in episodes of other TV series. As for movies, there's already been today's film and a 2009 Bollywood remake of it, called Accident on Hill Road.
This one's only "inspired by", though. Stuart Gordon says it's pretty accurate in the first half, but then it gets a bit more Gordon-ish in the second.
For the first 25 minutes or so, things stay quiet. Mena Suvari is a nurse in a retirement home, while Stephen Rea is a down-and-out. At first neither of them seem like bad people. Suvari is popular with her charges and her boss likes her enough to be thinking of promoting her, although you might reassess your opinion of her downwards when Friday night arrives and you see her hitting the drugs and alcohol. Meanwhile Rea is having to steal back his own clothes from someone to whom he owes money. His reason is that he has an interview at a scandalously unprofessional job centre, where they've mistyped his name in their computer and so they keep him waiting for three and a half hours before telling him he doesn't exist. That was shocking. I'm not saying that British unemployment agencies are perfect, but if that happened over here I'd be looking to get people sacked.
Then the bad thing happens. Some of Suvari's actions at this point might strike you as unrealistic, but believe it or not the unbelievable parts of this film are taken from life. Mallard really did have sex with her boyfriend immediately after putting her car in the garage. She really did keep popping back in to see if he was still alive and would even apologise.
What made my nose wrinkle was the smell around now of the movie becoming a movie. I was still comparing it in my head with what really happened, so for instance I knew that Stephen Rea's resilience was bullshit. The real guy died. I had a rocky transitional period for a while there, but I put that behind me and was able to relax again once I'd realised that this was simply a Stuart Gordon film. In the end, it's pretty good. Gordon finds a couple of moments of laugh-out-loud black comedy, with "help me" in particular being hysterically funny, while I like the personal journeys of both Suvari and Rea. Both of them get stronger, although not necessarily in good ways.
What the film's about is whether we're good or bad. What will we do for our fellow men? That quiet first act is still thematically significant, with the inhumanity at the job centre or that sweet scene with Lionel Mark Smith as another down-and-out. (Why do they all see alcohol as the magical answer to everything?) However it's once Rea's stuck in that windscreen that the thematic material really turns up to eleven. Suvari's neighbours, yeesh. The dog! You'd have to be deaf and blind to think that this film's not saying anything.
However it has one big problem: Mina Sevari. She's okay. She's sufficient. She manages to keep some broken kind of audience empathy almost until the end, when she could have instead chosen to be a monster. After a while you'll be struggling to see anything likeable in her, yet Sevari still keeps our attention with that hard-faced determination and the way she'll start taking charge instead of just running to her boyfriend as she had been earlier. However on the downside, never even once did she strike me as good. She's playing the character as almost unthinking, with no awareness of her words when she's putting all the blame on Rea or saying things that even a five-year-old could realise are untrue. She seems shallow and stupid. I didn't get any sense of insight, but merely of activity. People keep getting dialogue like "you look so stressed"... and it's never visible in Sevari's face.
Rea on the other hand is finding subtlety in a role where you'd wouldn't think to look for it. He was Oscar-nominated for The Crying Game, after all. It's a self-effacing performance, but there's a lot in there.
As for Stuart Gordon, horror fans should know him. He's best known for his Lovecraft adaptations, e.g. Re-Animator, From Beyond, Castle Freak, Dagon
and a Masters of Horror episode called "Dreams in the Witch-House". I haven't seen all of those yet, but Re-Animator is a lot of gory fun and I really admired Dagon
. My favourite Stuart Gordon story though is the one about him getting arrested for obscenity for the Peter Pan he did at the University of Wisconsin in 1968. This film isn't Lovecraftian, but it's still very Gordon and I defy anyone not to wince at Rea's windscreen scenes. Ouch, ouch, ouch.
Did I mention the nudity? No? Well, there is some.
The Bollywood remake though sounds bad, with quotes like "unintentionally comical" and "a terrible excuse for a film".
Is this a good movie? Absolutely, yes. Some critics were putting it on their Top Ten lists for 2008, although I'd be careful of letting that skew your expectations. I had a bit of mental adjustment to do in the middle, but that's entirely my problem and I was okay again once I'd got on board with it merely being fiction. It has devastating material, the "my God, this sort of happened" angle and a director who's really got the bit between his teeth. My only problem with it is Sevari and she wasn't bad enough to kill it for me, but merely playing it all firmly on one level with no layers. I think I'm turning into a Stuart Gordon fan.
"You didn't even look."