The creepy puppet face the tape recorded instructions the underground tiled bathroom and the astounding twists throughout the story are all back in full force in this latest Saw story. The dying cancer patient/serial killer Jigsaw (Tobin Bell)--a guy who is just trying to get people to appreciate life by putting them in deadly situations--was last seen handing off the baton to his new apprentice Amanda (Shawnee Smith). Yes the same girl he stuck in the jaw trap. And we find out what happened to Detective Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg). From there we see just how much Jigsaw is in need of medical attention. In order to assure his own health Jigsaw has Dr. Lynn Denlon (Bahar Soomekh) tend to him—while being connected to a device around her neck that will blow her head off if his heart stops. Nice touch. Meanwhile a father Jeff (Angus Macfadyen) is trying to deal with the loss of his son killed by a drunk driver. Jeff has to go through a series of tests which puts him face to face with the people responsible for his son's death in order to find forgiveness in the most gruesome ways. But don't get fooled by the poster of the hanging teeth--there is no teeth-pulling. Finally both Bell as the pasty-faced mastermind and Smith as his timid apprentice get a lot more play time showing they are accomplished and multi-dimensional actors. Bell lay on the floor most of the first Saw and was attached to an oxygen machine in the second one. This time he's in a hospital bed but his dead eyes and logical banter is as chilling as any Hannibal Lecter or Freddy Krueger. Bell displays his malevolence as if he's doing his victims a favor. Smith turns from a sniveling frightened child to a brave rogue apprentice almost Renfield-like in her approach to the role. She treats the victims more brutally than Jigsaw ever did. But this time around the victims are smart strong characters with Soomekh (Crash) and Macfadyen (TV's Alias) doing a fine job. Rather than a whole lot of screaming and pleading they face their predicaments with much more bravado. Maybe the filmmakers are getting a better quality of performer or Jigsaw is finding a better quality of victim--or both. Director Darren Lynn Bousman who took over the reigns from James Wan in the second Saw eases us right back into the third installment keeping all the reveals and the back stories hidden until he can slowly peel them away piece by piece like a fine onion. He also co-writes Saw III with writer Leigh Whannell. Some of the questions that crop up in the first two Saw movies are answered but even more questions are raised. And for the super-fan some of the bodies and sets from the previous movies are stumbled upon and revisited in this third movie. Saw III just continues the rollercoaster ride and also offers a lot more depth to the whole franchise’s philosophy. Where they go from here seems impossible to predict but no doubt the Saw-ing will continue.
Detective Graham Waters (Don Cheadle) and his partner Ria (Jennifer Esposito) get into a car accident en route to investigate a murdered body found in a canyon overlooking Los Angeles. Ria is ready to snap necks but Graham explains "It's the sense of touch…I think we miss that sense of touch so much that we crash into each other just so we can feel something." He ain't kiddin'. Crash begins at the end after 24 hours that have not only irrevocably changed Graham's life but also the lives of several other L.A. denizens who have inadvertently collided with one another. We go back to the previous day and meet an angry Brentwood housewife (Sandra Bullock) and her D.A. husband (Brendan Fraser) who have their car stolen at gunpoint by two carjackers (Larenz Tate and Chris "Ludacris"
Bridges); a paranoid Persian store owner (Shaun Toub) who tangles with a kindly Mexican locksmith (Michael Pena); a rookie LAPD cop (Ryan Phillippe) and his veteran partner (Matt Dillon) who harass an affluent black couple (Terrence Howard and Thandie
Newton) and then later ironically save them in separate hair-raising incidents. Black and white victim and aggressor there doesn't seem to be a right or a wrong as things escalate and culminate. The only common thread is the fact that life is too short to be filled with fear and intolerance.
The all-star cast is nothing less than spectacular. Cheadle tops the list as the beleaguered detective who keeps people including his partner and sometimes lover Esposito at a distance making his inevitable speech about touch even more poignant. This Oscar-nominated actor has the unique gift of lifting a scene to a whole new level just by sitting in silence. Bullock steps out of her America's Sweetheart box for a little while and plays the bigoted but lonely housewife while Fraser plays her workaholic husband with stoic detachment. As the cops Dillon giving one of his better performance to date and Phillippe aptly represent the two sides of the same coin: the racist careworn veteran whose vulnerability is revealed in a subtle way and the idealistic newcomer whose anxiety-ridden day takes its toll in a tragic way. Howard and Newton also turn in superb performances as respectively a television director who hardly ever makes waves and his emotionally wounded wife who can't believe her husband won't fight for her. Most of the more comical moments if you can call them that are provided by Tate (A Man Apart) and Bridges who emerges as yet another rapper who can act. His diatribes about racial relations are spot on. And lastly Crash's most heartening moments come from Pena (TV's The Shield). One night to allay his young daughter's fears he creates an invisible cloak that will forever protect her from harm--only to see it put to the test. It just rips your heart right out of your chest.
Television writer Paul Haggis who makes his directorial feature debut with Crash says his "aim with this film is to explore how intolerance is a collective problem." He should know. Living in Los Angeles he and his wife were once carjacked at gunpoint. Luckily no one was hurt but that one fateful night forced him out of complacency. Suddenly he wasn't immune. But more importantly he began thinking about who these carjackers were what kind of lives they lead--and Crash was born. Los Angeles is the perfect setting as the characters move around independently in their cars and in their homes. This insulated atmosphere only heightens the tension in the film. Real danger lurks on every frame--even in the lighter moments--and it's so gut-wrenching at times it's hard to watch. But just when you are certain some tragedy is about to occur Crash switches gears and surprises you. Of course films of this nature--such as Grand Canyon and Boyz N The Hood which do everything possible to get you to think and react--can also come off a tad preachy at times. In Crash's case it's a sermon we ought to listen to. You'll be hard pressed not to recognize at least to some degree a small part of yourself up there on screen.