I’d consider it a party foul if Michael Greenspan didn’t splurge on a high-end fruit basket for Adrien Brody once Wrecked, their 2011 attempt at aping 127 Hours, made it to post. Well-intentioned, and certainly lovely to look at, the director’s first feature-length effort lacks much of anything by way of that genre-essential trait, tension; it’s a slack film, one that sags almost from the opening ten minutes until the closing credits start to roll. With a less dedicated and talented actor serving as Wrecked‘s focus, I can’t imagine giving any recommendation to seek the movie out, but Brody puts so much of himself into his nameless amnesiac hero that it’s hard to wholly dismiss what’s ultimately a dramatically inert, by-the-numbers survival tale.
Wrecked revolves almost solely around Brody’s John Doe character, a man who wakes up in a crumpled and shattered car inexplicably smack-dab in the middle of a densely canopied forest. He lacks any semblance of personal identity; just by listening to radio broadcasts, he comes to conclude that he’s Raymond, a member of a bank robber trio and the last man alive in the group after performing a heist. He’s got nothing but corpses and the foreboding silence of nature for company– as well as the ghost of a young woman who may be a teller from the aforementioned bank, who stands by and watches with approval as the lone man’s sanity slips away. With death looming overhead, “Raymond” struggles to stay alive and make it to civilization.
There’s one catch– his leg’s trapped between the crushed glove compartment and his jammed door.
Unlike Danny Boyle’s smash hit true-to-life picture, Wrecked doesn’t end with Brody freeing himself and making it out of his situation sans a limb. It’s not a spoiler– Brody forces his way out of his makeshift prison within the first half hour or so of the narrative, and spends the rest of the movie dragging himself through the woods to find help and rescue. Normally I might let something like this slide, but Greenspan ends up answering the film’s initial query too quickly and doesn’t have a particularly interesting follow-up to sustain the inherent tension of the picture’s basic conceit.
To be totally clear, I’m not criticizing Wrecked for allowing Brody to roam around (well, crawl anyhow) for the bulk of its running time. The problem is that once he’s out, very little happens that’s exciting or capable of getting our pulses pounding. What really makes this into something of a snafu on Greenspan’s part is that he has an organic threat to raise the stakes for Brody’s character– during the early portions of the narrative, he introduces the presence of a mountain lion which sneaks around in the dark of the night and consumes the remains of Brody’s partners in crime. But the beast makes limited appearances, and ends up disappearing for roughly half of the film until the climax; it’s hard to really be invested in a movie about a guy dragging himself through the woods aimlessly, and Wrecked doesn’t seize the chance to make Brody’s story into a real contest of survival of the fittest.
It’s a huge missed opportunity for the film. If not for Brody, Wrecked could just be summarized as a boring and pointless story of a man trying to survive in the wilderness, where the biggest obstacle to his continued existence appears to be frequent rain showers. There’s never a single encounter with another form of wildlife, save for a German Shepard that appears at the scene of the crash and accompanies Raymond on his journey; it doesn’t seem like there’s very much by way of danger for our protagonist to deal with, apart from his struggle to recover his memory and maybe find some food. Even that doesn’t translate as something life-threatening, and eventually Greenspan makes the impression on us that we need not fear for Raymond’s health and well-being, which is the opposite effect a movie of this sort should want to engender.
So with all that in mind, enormous and glowing praise must be directed at Brody for making Wrecked into something watchable. I don’t know if he sensed something personal in Raymond’s crisis that allowed him to identify with the character on an emotional level, or if he just found the idea of his plight to be completely gripping, but Brody dives into Wrecked headfirst and crafts a performance so outstanding as to whitewash the lesser aspect of the rest of the film. For the palpable lack of stakes, Brody makes his character’s ordeal compelling; he gravitates toward Raymond’s humanity and brings it to the surface effortlessly, leading us to empathize with him as he sees traces of his life– childhood memories of owning a dog or the comforting familiarity of a song heard over the radio– pass before his eyes.
But as good as Brody is, he’s also all that Wrecked has going for it. And even a talented actor giving his A-game can’t save a picture that’s bereft of all of the things that should be essential pieces of its core. I want to say that Greenspan, for his failure, had good intentions here but that would require some baseline understanding of what he meant to accomplish with his film in the first place. With no real drama pushing its plot forward, Wrecked doesn’t have much of a reason to exist– and therefore we have even less reason to watch it.