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One aspect of human behavior that keeps up with technology is criminal activity. The Bible book of Leviticus enumerates as long list of offences and their subsequent consequences but in recent times you really don’t see a lot of people accused of grand theft bull or illegal gleaning. There was a time in American history when a horse thief would find himself facing a tree branch and noose for his crime. Stealing a horse back in the old west was tantamount to taking a man’s means of making a living. Actually if you look back through the record of civilization stealing a mode of transportation or draft animal was nearly a serious a crime as manslaughter. The reason is how the community’s economy and individual lively hood are essentially dependent on such an animal. In our modern world these animals have been supplanted by the automobile. It is therefore only natural that our society should designate the stealing of a car in terms like grand theft auto or the more despicable crime that serves as the basis for the film under consideration here, carjacking. The primary factor here that differentiates this crime from the more routine form of stealing a car is the thief doesn’t bother about details such as waiting for the driver to vacate the vehicle. Sometimes the driver is pushed out but there are many instances where the victim is not afforded that benefit. This compounds the crime with additional serious charges including kidnapping, menacing, and assault and battery. With such a myriad of charges and an inherent degree of drama, danger and excitement it should come as no surprise a film would be made simply titled ‘Carjacked’. Admittedly there is a considerable potential for a borderline exploitation flick considering the subject matter which is exactly what I expected when I received the initial announcement. I was pleasantly surprised when upon viewing the film I discovered a solid piece of entertainment. This movie manages to provide reasonable direction, a script that could be tightened and performances that are enjoyable. Some aspects fall shy of properly gelling but the overall impression given by the film is it was made by a cast and crew making an honest attempt at presenting the best film possible.

Life has presented a long hard road for Lorraine (Maria Bello). Her marriage had been strained to the breaking point by her ex husband’s military career that ultimately resulted in their divorce. She received custody of her son Chad (Connor Hill) and so many divorced women approaching middle age she is out of place in the workforce and is stressed trying to make their meager ends meet. Trying to better her lot with some courses in psychology where she describes herself in the most deprecating terms possible. Herself image is one of a woman who spent her youth keeping the home fires burning while her husband served in the military. Now, after the divorce Lorraine has nothing that matters in her life except her only child, Chad. Her husband is challenging the custody arrangement with her ex and the dispute had become increasingly heated.

Lorraine’s financial situation is so dire when Chad expresses a desire for pizza she doesn’t have enough money to go to a pizzeria, so, not wanting to disappoint the kid, Lorraine stops at a gas station for some frozen pizza. Having been born and raised in Brooklyn I do have to disavow the term pizza to denote anything that is grabbed from the icy depths of a gas station freezer. In certain neighborhoods of Brooklyn that action would be construed as child abuse. As it happens so often in a thriller Roy (
Stephen Dorff), just got done robbing a bank and finds himself in desperate need of a car. What could be better than a forty year old mother and her eight year old child? Through some contrivance necessary to provide the basis for the plot Roy needs to go and retrieve the proceeds of the bank job. One thing that will require a hefty suspension of belief is the premise contained in this screenplay. It was authored by husband and wife team Sherry and Michael Compton representing the freshman opus for both. While the elements are all present some work is necessary to get to the point where the audience can easily accept the establishment of the action and motivation of the characters. The setup for the characters is very well constructed juxtaposing two people backed by circumstances into the direst possible circumstances. Lorraine was crafted in such aw fashion that her untenable position started long before Roy forced his way on the scene. This plot device does set up one of the best foundations for a thriller; pushing a fundamentally reasonable person beyond the point of rational behavior. While not up to some of the best uses of this device such as ‘Falling Down’ the Comptons are well on their way to achieving much better things. To get a thriller like this to work it is necessary to provide the right setting. This was done exceptionally well by unfolding the bulk of the story in the confines of the car. These familiar surroundings are morphed into an emotional pressure cooker where Lorraine is forced to overcome her self-deprecation long enough to save her child’s life. Roy is placed into a primeval situation akin to threatening a bear cub in front of its angry mother. Lorraine was reduced to tunnel vision geared towards survival. In a similar emotional state Roy is equally frantic driven by greed and staying alive and free.

Director John Bonito is on his second film here. Prior to this he directed ‘The Marine’ and several pieces for the WWE which makes sense since the star of that film was recruited from that world. With such a testosterone heavy experience Bonito is in unfamiliar territory directing a story centering on such a strong female character. He succeeds mostly because he was able to trust the professionalism and talent of his cast. Dorff has been honing his portrayal of the bad boy villain for a significant portion of his career. He plays Roy as a victim of his own bad decisions not overly conducive to invoking t e sympathy of the audience. Bonito develops a dynamic between the two leads that is gripping. Bello is one of the most emotionally powerful actresses around. She had her share of ingénue role early in her career but since then has matured into a force of nature on screen. Bello is not concerned with the appearance the way many actresses are, she embraces the decade of life she is in and draws even more raw emotion from it. The result is a woman that is entirely believable that the audience cheers on. Here she is the mature survivor girl archetype. This film is not great but has what it takes to be interesting.

Posted 11/19/11

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