Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Shattered (1991)

Director: Wolfgang Petersen                           Writer: Wolfgang Petersen
Film Score: Alan Silvestri                               Cinematography: László Kovács
Starring: Tom Berenger, Bob Hoskins, Gretta Sacchi and Corbin Bernsen

The late nineteen eighties and early nineties witnessed an influx of neo-noir films in Hollywood, some good and some, like Shattered, not so good. And yet it has one of the most surprising and satisfying endings of any film from the period. Is that enough to make up for the lackluster quality of the rest of the film? Probably not. But it is worth watching just for that. Writer-director Wolfgang Petersen is, ironically, probably best known to American audiences from the last of his German films, Das Boot. The World War Two submarine picture was a gigantic international success and so popular in the U.S. that it was also released in an English dubbed version, a practice that had fallen out of favor with foreign films by the end of the seventies. Petersen’s screenplay was based on the mystery novel The Plastic Nightmare by Richard Neely, though it’s difficult to know how much of the actual dialogue he kept. The dialogue in the film is rather pedestrian which contributes to the low quality of the production. Essentially it gives off the vibe of a TV movie in nearly every aspect but the plot itself.

The film begins with a car going off the road and rolling down an embankment. It turns over a dozen or more times with Tom Berenger inside, but his wife Gretta Sacchi thrown clear. While she has little more than a scratch, Berenger spends the next six months in the hospital undergoing reconstructive surgery for his mangled face, and psychotherapy for his amnesia. Sacchi keeps everyone away from him and also reconstructs their loving relationship with him, culminating in a passionate sexual encounter just before they leave the hospital. Once home, however, Berenger begins to learn that their marriage was not what she says it was. In fact, business partner Corbin Bernsen tells him that he wanted a divorce and that he and Sacchi were fighting the night he was killed. When he’s rummaging around his home office he also discovers a roll of negatives that show Sacchi in bed with another man, and that gets the wheels turning. Through his secretary at work he finds out who took the pictures, private detective Bob Hoskins. Initially Hoskins thinks Berenger should forget about it and reset his marriage, but by the next day he has a lot of questions that make him rethink that stance. Together, the two of them try to figure out what he life was really like before the accident.

Tom Berenger started his career with some real momentum, getting positive attention in Butch and Sundance: The Early Days and a few years later had a great run that included The Big Chill and Platoon. From then on, however, his projects were hit and miss, and far more misses than hits. He does a good job here, but no more than any other competent actor could do. Gretta Sacchi was nearly typecast at this point in her career. Her breakout performance in Presumed Innocent was as a manipulative woman who would stop at nothing to get what she wanted. She went right from that film into this one and played virtually the same character. That reputation works for her here as she is the most untrustworthy character in the cast. Bob Hoskins plays . . . well, Bob Hoskins. It works here, but his character uses a pet store as a cover and that comes off as incredibly forced. Corbin Bernsen, who is essentially doing his L.A. Law character, needed to be reined in a great deal more by Petersen, and Joanne Whalley suffers from the same problem. Alan Silvestri’s film score is serviceable, but not very memorable. All of this negative commentary should have pushed the film over onto my bad movie blog, but with lowered expectations it is watchable, delivering the value of a decent TV movie. The ending, however, is incredible. Some critics, like Roger Ebert, felt it was so bizarre that it weakened the film rather than saved it. I disagree. The ending of Shattered is one of the all time great movie climaxes and makes it a film definitely worth watching.

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