Friday, March 19, 2010
I love films like A Perfect Getaway. On the surface, they seem like such clichéd, unoriginal genre efforts, but as I stuck with this film, I realized that there is some real skill being displayed both behind and in front of the camera. This thriller is written and directed by David Twohy, the same man who wrote one of the defining chase films, The Fugitive, back in 1993. He hasn't come close to retaining those heights in the years since, but A Perfect Getaway serves as a welcome reminder that this guy has a feel for how good suspense works.
The film's premise isn't complicated, but Twohy wisely uses the simplicity as an asset rather than a limitation. Cliff and Cydney Anderson (Steve Zahn and Milla Jovovich) are newlyweds trying to figure out what to do with their Hawaii honeymoon. However, the island doesn't end up being that cooperative. After a strange and disturbing encounter with another couple, the sweet, innocent smiles leave the couple's faces, and things get even worse when they figure out that another newlywed couple on the island was murdered only a short time before.
Not soon after, the two run into another bizarre couple, Nick (Timothy Olyphant) and Gina (Kiele Sanchez). When Nick learns that Cliff is a working screenwriter, he doesn't hesitate to share a handful of his Iraq experiences. Among others, he tells the story of how he received the titanium plate in his head, and Gina, a former butcher, shares the same intensity. While Cliff and Cydney's idea of a romantic evening might be some wine by the fire, Nick and Gina much prefer the idea of gutting a goat.
Without a doubt, Twohy is going for some dark, humorous effect by pairing together these two couples that couldn't be more different, but he doesn't overdo it. Suspense is the name of the game, and I felt plenty of it. The first hour of this film has, quite honestly, some of the most psychologically frightening moments I've experienced from any film from this past year. Twohy is able to get pretty far under our skin by keeping his techniques relatively simple. He doesn't try to do too much. He relies on the actors -- who all do a good enough job -- and the atmosphere to create his world of tension.
Disappointingly, however, Twohy does build the entire third act around a revelatory plot twist that brings the film down on a couple of levels. I don't deny that the twist is somewhat clever, and I'm not going to pretend that I saw it coming, but I just felt that, because the film did such a good job of maintaining anxiety through mystery, that an extended back-story sequence explaining every inch of the film wasn't the best way to go. On a psychological level, the shocker couldn't be more unsettling, but it takes the film in a whole different direction, and, in the process, develops an entirely new tone that I didn't find as satisfying.
Regardless of my personal feelings about the ending, it will most definitely stir up debate with audiences. I'm sure there will be just as many supporters as there are naysayers, and I don't think Twohy would have wanted it any other way. The entire film is meant to play with us, to put us in situations we know nothing about, and in that context, the ending fits just fine. The larger issue I have with the ending is the fact that Twohy chooses to rely on it so much. It is not as if this twist is some eleventh hour turning point; it is essentially the entire third act, and it left me on a sour note, almost convincing me to forget the brilliance of the first two-thirds. But I still cannot discredit my belief that A Perfect Getaway is a first-rate thriller for the majority of its running time.