Friday, October 12, 2007

The Hand

There are a few problems with Oliver Stone’s second film, the biggest of which would have to be how he taunts us with a horror movie and then pulls away to reveal a standard thriller instead. Had he been willing to commit from the start to one or the other, it might have become an effective movie, but as it is it just comes across as wishy washy.

The film focuses on Michael Caine as an artist suffering through a bad marriage that’s in the middle of a full disintegration when his wife makes a poor driving decision that results in his (non-painting) hand getting torn off. While he starts to recover physically, he seems to be feeling a level of psychic connection to the missing hand, particularly when it goes on a killing spree against everyone that gets in his way. This is a plot convention that has to be at least as old as the old EC comics, but it can still be done well enough (Evil Dead 2, which came out half a decade later, was the master of this type of plot).

I cannot critique it further without spoiling the big twist. If you do not wish to read further, just accept that this is Stone’s weakest film (IMDB backs me up on this, btw), and along with Deadly Friend is one of the two weak points of the Twisted Terror boxed set. Now, with that said, let’s delve into Stone’s lack of commitment.

As I said, the film doesn’t know whether it wants to be a thriller or a horror movie. We can actually see the hand moving around at times, including some shots, like when we get a shot from the hand’s point of view as it crawls along the ground before attacking a hobo, that would seem unlikely at best to haven’t been real. However, yes, at the end, we’re shown that the hand was completely in his mind and he was just killing people on his own. In preparation for this, Stone has kept the pacing to a borderline crawl, as the killings don’t really begin until we’re over an hour into the film, which makes the first hour just so enjoyable to sit through, but there’s way too many shots of the hand crawling around, him dreaming about the hand, and other hand-related nonsense for it to work properly as a thriller either.

The movie’s decently, if unenthusiastically, acted, with Michael Caine doing his usual good job as his life slowly falls to pieces around him. Andrea Marcovicci has the thankless role of playing his wife, and despite seeming to be built from a compilation of negative character traits (she’s cheating on him, she’s a constant nag, she wants him to sell away his rights to his big creation to provide some extra cash around the house, she wants to take their daughter away from him and move in with her muscular aerobics instructor, she’s a bad enough driver to get his hand ripped off of him, etc.), but to her credit she does a good enough job with it that she still comes across as halfway sympathetic. Had the two of them been in a better movie, I’m fairly sure that they could have done a great job together. Unfortunately, they weren’t and they didn’t.

Rating: * ½

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