Viewed: March 14, 2014
Overall Opinion: I was drawn to this film for a few reasons. One, I’m a big fan of writer/director Eric Heisserer and his contributions to the screenwriting community. Two, this film roped me in with an awesome trailer.
What I Learned: Let’s start with some of the things I thought the movie did well: This is obviously the work of an experienced screenwriter. Heisserer is really masterful in how he ratchets up the tension as the film goes along. The hand-crank generator plot-device is really clever and allows him all sorts of opportunities to make more and more things go wrong. The power goes out, so Paul Walker finds the hand crank, but the battery’s bad and needs to be recharged every three minutes. Then it starts losing its ability to hold juice and starts needing a charge every 2:45, every 2:30, and so on. As Walker roams about the hospital trying to find something to improve his predicament, he’s anchored by this battery — he keeps needing to run back to the room to charge it, and you really start to feel his frustration. I think at one point I actually started laughing out loud, not because it was funny but because it was so goddamn intense and my body needed to break the mood or something. It was weird. Anyway, Heisserer kept introducing bigger, more menacing threats and finding new ways to stomp on any semblance of hope the character might have had. In terms of plotting and escalating conflict, this was pretty much textbook.
When it comes to things I thought could have been done better, I mentioned I thought the beginning of the movie was a little clunky. It felt like maybe we were moving too fast, getting to the meat of the plot a little too soon. Specifically, the scene where Paul Walker learns his wife has died during childbirth and the whole sequence leading up to him meeting his daughter for the first time didn’t feel particularly authentic. It’s hard to put my finger on it but it felt like maybe Paul’s character needed a scene where he could grieve or something. Instead, he’s rushed into the room where his baby is being kept on a ventilator and we get the plot rolling right away. I know we’re supposed to feel the urgency here but instead it just felt a little off.
The other thing that didn’t work for me was the sprinkling of flashbacks and quiet moments throughout the movie. The flashbacks to Paul and his now dead wife, to me, really didn’t serve any purpose. If he were in some sort of scenario where he was trying to save her, where her life was at stake, I could see the value in us as the audience getting to know her through flashbacks. But since she was dead, I didn’t see the point. The movie didn’t have anything particularly novel to say about grief so many of these moments fell flat to me and ground the story to a halt. Now, I appreciate the challenge here. We’re in a contained setting. Paul Walker has no one to talk to. The entire movie can’t be action — there had to be a few of these quiet moments where we got deeper insight into his character. But I felt a disconnect between what we learned in the flashbacks and what was actually taking place in the present. To me, there was no apparent connection and the movie wouldn’t have lost much by just removing them.