Worth A Look: 17.34%
Pretty Bad: 10.3%
Total Crap: 16.8%
15 reviews, 279 user ratings
by Chris Parry
SCREENED AT THE 2004 SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL: The boys had been enthusiastic with their praise when they'd come home from the late night screening of Saw. "As good as May," said one. "Just awesome," said the other. Well then, if they're digging the flick that much, maybe I *should* get up at 8am next morning and catch the press screening... Now wait a minute, is this film that I'm watching the same Saw my buddies were talking about last night? Because, man, does this film blow.The premise is great. Two men (Cary Elwes and Leigh Wannell) wake up chained to opposite ends of a dingy bathrooom. In the middle of the room lies a dead body with a gun and a tape recorder in his hands. What do you do?
"Sorry, I gotta go against the grain here... Saw sucked. Hard."
From this role-playing game styled beginning, Saw takes a series of turns, most of them in a downward direction, that reveal the reason these two have been held captive, why they were targeted, and offers clues as to how they can escape. And you're there with it, reaady to be entertained, baffled and disgusted. Until people start talking, that is.
With a gritty style that isn't far removed from the oft-mentioned Nine Inch Nails videos that are oft-compared to the classic suspense thriller Se7en, Saw is the very epitome of what can now be done with a small budget and a great storyline, but there's something that has to go along with those two building blocks if you really want the movie to work. That something is called dialogue.
Written by co-star Leigh Wannell, Saw is a great example of a script written by someone who never actually spoke the words aloud as he was writing. Tell me this: if you found yourself chained to a wall, with a dead body just feet away, and another guy was chained to the other wall, would the first words you spoke be "I'm Lawrence Gordon... I'm a doctor"?
I mean, when you sit down next to someone on the bus, do you say "I'm Chris Parry... I'm a journalist"? Of course not. See, if I were in the same situation I'd say "Calm the hell down, man. I didn't chain you up, I'm chained myself. Who did this? Why are we here? Who's the dead guy? ARRRAGAH! Let me out!"
See, the key to a fine character piece, and that's really what Saw should have been, is to learn about the characters through their actions. If Lawrence is a doctor, you might give that away like this...
ADAM: Ouch, this chain is really cutting in deep.
LAWRENCE: Try to get some water on it and clean it up. You don't want to get gangrene.
ADAM: Shut up, I'm not going to get gangrene.
LAWRENCE: You will if you don't get that wound clean.
ADAM: How would you know?
LAWRENCE: Because I'm a doctor.
See, now in that quick scene you've established the pain of the character, the background of another, that the two of them don't trust each other, and it sounds realistic. But Wannell doesn't understand that, so he throws words in the mouths of his characters that don't sound natural coming out and reveal all too much, so as the dumbasses in the audience don't need to think.
Saw is violent, in a very tongue in cheek way that will get you to the edge of your seat, but it's also dumb, especially as it grinds towards a lame and predictable finish that will only really surprise you if you haven't been thinking for the first 4/5 of the movie. Small parts by Danny Glover, who has all of about eight lines and turns into a cartoon character that would have been best left on the cutting room floor, and Dina Meyer (who literally has no more than a dozen words in the film) make things all the more confusing.
But what really kicked my ass all the way through this film was just how terrible Cary Elwes' performance was. I'm not talking clumsy, I'm talking shockingly bad. Granted, the dialogue he's supposed to be speaking is one step above first year film school standard, but his weak performance goes even beyond that, turning what should have been a pivotal character into a ham and cheese on rye.
Has Elwes been doing too much work on the stage of late, or was the dialogue and internal characterization required of him here just too much for his traditionally light and fluffy talents to handle? Elwes is a fine Wesley, but when it comes to a man on the edge, he comes across sounding like Stewie on TV's The Family Guy.
"Curse the abominable hellspawn that manacled me to this malodorous bathroom fitting!"Ultimately it could be suggested that Saw had been too hyped for me going in. Or maybe it had something to do with the horrific time of day I was supposed to see it. But in reality, I prefer to look upon it as simply a good low budget film shot down by a couple of factors that didn't have to stink. Replace the cast with people who can really pull off a dramatic turn (a la Requiem for a Dream), and replace the co-star screenwriter with someone who has earned their wings in the dialogue trade, and you could well have had a brilliantly nasty little moneymaker on your hands. Instead, what you have is a film that will please the blood buffs, mildly amuse the kiddies and make the adults go "puh-lease."
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=8560&reviewer=1
originally posted: 01/30/04 07:19:29
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Boston Fantastic Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Boston Fantastic Film Festival series, click here.
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