Sunday, November 28, 2004

A Filmaholic's Movie Review: SAW

As promised I have finished my review of the movie SAW starring Cary Elwes and Danny Glover. Rather than go through the usual plot summary that can easily be cut-and-pasted from I will focus on special points of interest within the film's plot line with a synopsis and star rating at the end.

Star Rating Key:

no star - Awful, better left on the shelf.
* - Poor, if you are desperately curious rent it otherwise wait for cable.
** - Fair, if the shelves are bare at Blockbuster this is an honest attempt.
*** - Good, a quality film worth a look for many fans of the genre.
**** - Excellent, cross genre appeal, a must see film for the year.

When I heard about SAW I was very excited not only because the story centered around law enforcement's pursuit of a serial killer but two of the stars of the film are my personal faves. Cary Elwes is pretty cool and has a lot of range as an actor. Although his choice of projects can at times make my left eyebrow rise a bit. Danny Glover is very good as well as. I've been a fan of his for some time. He tends to give even the role of a hero a certain bit of frailty, making it all the more human and believable. Plus he can play a real son of a bitch equally believable (see his performance in The Color Purple). With the rest of the supporting cast SAW had the pedigree to be another SE7EN or Silence of the Lambs. Yes, I was excited to see the film.

One thing that immediately struck me in the opening scene was the strong use (and non-use) of color. The use of monochromatic lighting for each of the torture/puzzle chambers created by the psychopath did an excellent job of making you feel as though you were no longer in this world but trapped inside the mind of the killer. Each unique scenario created had its own color tone. It brought back memories of 50's film noir with its use of shadows (later on colored hues) and off-angle camera shots to create an eery feeling in the viewer. SAW plays on this technique tastefully. Often enough these monochromatic scenes are broken up by copious amounts of "blood red" adding more to the visual macabre that is SAW.

Films with dialogue that is not "pushed" are a real delicacy in this genre. SAW's dialogue was surprising light and humorous for a film with such a morbid plot. However, this humor was overshadowed most of the time by the shocking visuals making the experience of watching SAW similar to navigating a timed obsticle course under heavy gunfire. This is exactly what the victims experience in the custom made scenarios created by the killer. By being placed in a situation with impossible choices with limited time to think and act adds to the sense of rapid pace that SAW had. In reality, the story progresses at a typical pace leading to the big twist at the end. I will not divulge the twist ending but I will say that it does fall a bit short when compared to the endings of films like The Sixth Sense or Angel Heart.

Elapsed time within SAW also posed a problem when dealing with the two major time lines; Cary Elwes trapped inside the killer's puzzle chamber with the clock ticking and Danny Glover's investigation of the murders and tracking down the killer's identity. The scenarios created by the killer are extremely well planned and look like they would have taken months to years to set-up. The scenarios seem sensationalized a bit - too complex to be developed and carried out by a single person. At no point during the film do we have this sense of calculation, patience and sinister execution. Clues are discovered so rapidly, leading to the next phase in the investigation, that we are lead to believe that the time is much shorter than it really was. The killer must have had infinite patience as well as seemingly unlimited resources and time for creating each unique puzzle scenario. One final note for the scenarios, where did the killer get all the electronics and gadgets necessary for creating the puzzle chambers? Obviously, not ALL of the technology would be readily available on the streets. Normally, when items need to be collected to create weapons or bombs, the authorities are able to track down the companies that sell or make the items in hopes of tracking down the person who bought them. This is not explored at all in SAW. Obviously, this would have shortened the investigation some what.

In the last half of the film, SAW does take some dubious short-cuts leading us to the exciting conclusion. For one, I felt that the identities of those involved in this sick game were revealed too early. It took a lot of the shock value from the twist ending mentioned earlier. The effect the film makers were aiming for can be seen done to perfection in the movie Copycat starring Sigourney Weaver and Holly Hunter. In addition, the erradic behavior of the detectives seemed to have added unnecessary chaos to confusion leading to the ending scenes. Lastly, I feel the main character did not pull off effectively the utter breakdown necessary to lead to the horrible self-amputation. No, I'm not going to say what is cut off but needless to say when it did unfold I immediately thought, "where the hell did that come from?" At that point in the film, I feel the character was not driven to that "level" madness to perform such an act.

All in all, SAW was entertaining and did leave the viewer was some shocking visuals to ponder. The shock value made up for the short-cuts taken through out the film. Most likely these were the result of the studio demanding more edits in order to make the film fit into a 120 minute frame. I would be interested in the release of the DVD and hopefully a director's cut which might add dutifully to the story. I think SAW fell a bit short of SE7EN, Silence of the Lambs and Copycat but deserves a look by fans who appreciate this genre.