Stuck first published by Film4
“Out of sight, out of mind.”
So says Rashid (Russell Hornsby), the drug-dealing boyfriend of Brandi Boski (Mena Suvari), as the pair plots to get rid of Thomas Bardo (Stephen Rea) – a homeless man who has become lodged in the windshield of Boski’s car after she accidentally rammed him in the street late at night, and who, though the worse for wear, is still very much alive. Due for promotion to a more responsible position at the nursing home where she works, Brandi wishes that her little problem, now locked and bleeding in the garage, would just go away. In Stuck, however, director Stuart Gordon shows the amoral limbo in which all his characters have become trapped together, and from which there can be no easy escape – and he presents his story with eyes wide open, ensuring that none of its more unpleasantly confronting elements is ever really out of sight or mind.
When we first meet Bardo – named for the transitional state in Buddhism between death and rebith – he is already stuck in a desperate downward spiral. Recently axed from his white-collar job and evicted from his apartment, he is treated with casual inhumanity by both an Employment Services bureaucrat (Patrick McKenna) and a beat cop (Wally McKinnon), and has nowhere left to go but the mission shelter on the other side of town. Before he can get there, he is hit by an intoxicated Boski, and finds himself plunged even deeper into a nightmare of sociopathic irresponsibility and callous cruelty – except that, with his already rather narrow choices now reduced even further, all that Bardo has to pit against Boski’s will for him to die is his own will to survive.
Gordon may previously have drawn his special brand of B-grade excess from Lovecraftian horror (Re-Animator, From Beyond, Castle Freak, Dagon) or SF futurism (Robot Jox, Fortress, Space Truckers), but with Stuck, he has not had to look beyond the daily news. For while this story exhibits all the tawdry sensationlism and larger-than-life grotesquery of a Coen brothers caper, it is in fact inspired by the real-life case of African-American nurse’s aide Chante Jawan Mallard, who in 2001 struck homeless Gregory Glenn Biggs with her car, and then left him in her garage to die rather than go for help. She was eventually caught, and received 50 years in prison.
Working with screenwriter Jon Strysik, Gordon has adapted this story into a darkly comic thriller. The character’s names (and in one instance, race) have been changed, and the ending is influenced less by the facts of the case than by the demands of genre, but the mean-spiritedness on show here is all too real, right down to the incredible-but-true detail that Mallard had sex with her boyfriend while Biggs was bleeding to death next door.
She may be best known for her more wholesome rôles as the US’ wet dream in American Pie (1999) and American Beauty (1999), but Suvari is a revelation here, in what is possibly her most unflattering rôle since playing a crystal meth addict in Jonas Åkerlund’s Spun (2002) or a whore in Gordon’s own Edmond (2005). While we first see her caring for the elderly (and doing a good enough job of it that her patients ask for her by name), a succession of unconscionable decisions, a strong sense of denial, and an unwillingness to back down from what she has started, soon have her accident escalating into an atrocity. Watching her stumble through this moral minefield of her own making is akin to staring at a traffic pile-up – except that the collision here, like the ones in Roger Michell’s Changing Lanes (2002) and Paul Haggis’ Crash (2004), is used to expose a broader ugliness in humanity.
Brandi’s behaviour may be pathological, but is it, the film asks, so very different from that of her neighbours, her boyfriend, the police, the welfare official, or the landlord, who all choose after their own fashon to look the other way – or is it indeed so very different from our own wilful blindness when faced with the plight of the downtrodden, the homeless or the desperate? These are confronting questions indeed, which only add to the discomfort of this film’s undeniable entertainments.
Verdict: Stuck is disturbing in all the right ways, turning an incredible real-life story of human callousness and suffering into a tawdry entertainment that makes guffawing, sociopathic rubbernecks of us all.
© Anton Bitel