Home Pge, Site Index, Search, Help

‘Shattered’ (R)

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
October 11, 1991

In Wolfgang Petersen's expertly intricate new thriller, "Shattered," when Dan Mellick (Tom Berenger) goes through the windshield of his car as it plunges over the cliff, the glass splinters into a million lethal shards. In the process, a similar fragmenting explosion occurs within his mind. Miraculously, he survives the accident and, after months of arduous work by a team of plastic surgeons, walks away looking much as he did before. The only side effect is a major one; he can't remember who he is or anything of his life before the accident. He's a lost man, wandering in a fog of nothingness, trying to fit together the scattered puzzle pieces of his identity.

His guide in this reconstruction process is his loving wife, Judith (Greta Scacchi), who was also in the accident but escaped with barely a scratch. While Dan is still in the hospital, Judith selflessly dedicates herself to Dan's mental renovation, showing him pictures from their past, filling his head with stories of their life together, trying slowly to connect the stray dots of his consciousness. Don't be afraid, she says, when he becomes agitated. I'm here. We're in this together. We're a team.

Petersen, who adapted his screenplay from the Richard Neely novel, does a masterly job of plugging us into Dan's disorientation. While Judith carefully paints a picture of domestic felicity, slivery flashbacks of discord and violence keep cutting into Dan's childlike faith in his wife. One day, he notices in a picture that he smokes a pipe and, reaching into his humidor for a pinch of tobacco, discovers a roll of contact prints of Judith having sex with another man. His architectural partner, Jeb (Corbin Bernsen), confirms his suspicions that all was not well in his marriage before the accident, while Jeb's wife, Jenny (Joanne Whalley-Kilmer), gives him the lowdown on Judith's affair, suggesting that perhaps the crash wasn't an accident at all, but a botched attempt to rub him out.

It's been years since a thriller has worked on this many levels; it's like a Chinese puzzle box, an interlocking complex of mysterious details with the ultimate mystery of Dan's identity at its dark center. Adding to the intrigue -- and our immense pleasure -- is the presence of Bob Hoskins as Gus, the pit-bullish private investigator Dan had hired to document his wife's infidelities. It's Gus that Dan goes to when he begins to suspect that Jenny's allegations may be true. And it's Gus who discovers that a fax from Judith's lover was sent from Dan's office to Tokyo on the morning after the accident.

An infinite number of scenarios seem possible; that's how the film hooks us. Petersen keeps you guessing, and just when you think you've figured it out, a new wrinkle is added, undermining your theory. Everyone seems suspect, and considering the wealth Dan has accumulated as a successful San Francisco architect, everyone has ample motive, including his partner, especially when it's established that Jenny and Dan were also lovers.

Greta Scacchi's Judith is the movie's linchpin. A sultry film noir temptress, Scacchi is a worthy successor to the tradition of Lana Turner and Barbara Stanwyck. She's a honey blonde -- the kind of blonde, as Raymond Chandler once put it, who could make a bishop kick a hole in a stained-glass window -- and she throws nothing but knuckleballs. Every word out of her mouth is molasses-smooth and, at the same time, suspect. She's both femme fatale and sphinx, alluring and indecipherable.

Berenger brings a genuine quality of pathos to his character. Dan is a stranger to himself, and the more he discovers about his past, the less familiar it all seems. And he forces us to identify with Dan's drive to find out the truth. The movie's truly great performance, though, is turned in by Hoskins, who, as he almost always does, steals the show with his insouciant sense of gritty reality. No actor in the movies is more effortlessly natural than Hoskins, and very few are funnier. And this is vintage Hoskins.

It would be disastrous to even hint at the movie's denouement; a critic could get lynched for giving away an ending as shockingly unexpected as the one here. Let's just say that it blows the top of your head off. This is a startlingly satisfying, complex bit of moviemaking. A shadowy modern noir that's cynical to its marrow, and truly blacker than black.

"Shattered" is rated R, for nudity and violence.

Copyright The Washington Post

Back to the top

Home Page, Site Index, Search, Help