(Luis Mandoki, USA , 2002)


This film begins inauspiciously. We are hurled into an orgy of hand-held camera moves, fast edits and gross colour effects as Joe (Kevin Bacon) successfully completes his latest kidnapping scheme.


In snatching children from temporarily separated couples, Joe and his associates, Cheryl (Courtney Love) and Marvin (Pruitt Taylor Vince), manage to achieve three things simultaneously: reaping of vast monetary amounts, sexual menacing of the mother, and humiliation of the father.


Mercifully, the stylistic overkill settles down after the prologue, which is designed to show us how well Joe’s schemes usually go. But next time is going to pan out a little differently. Not only are Wil (Stuart Townsend) and Karen (Charlize Theron) smart, tough cookies, but their snatched child, Abby (Dakota Fanning), has an asthma condition with which Marvin is ill-equipped to deal.


Trapped had a quiet release in America in 2002 because its content resonated uncomfortably with recent real-life kidnapping cases. However, this is a movie safely ensconced in the fantasies of its genre. As a thriller about the disturbance of home and family, it sits midway between Scorsese’s remake of Cape Fear (1991) and Panic Room (2002).


Director Luis Mandoki clearly enjoys breaking away from his usual sentimental fare, such as Message in a Bottle (1999). He delivers the action in a fast, absorbing way, unafraid to go full throttle on plot developments that some viewers will find absurdly contrived.


Telephone communication plays a central role in the texture of events. If Joe does not ring his colleagues every thirty minutes, someone is going to die. Later, in a splendidly overwrought sequence, Wil keeps turning off the engine of his seaplane and sending it earthward in order to disguise the noise of its engine during tense phone exchanges.


Greg Iles’ script, adapted from his novel 24 Hours, politely withdraws from some of the less comfortable or reassuring possibilities of the story. Atypical for an intimacy thriller like this, the marriage of Karen and Wil is not besieged by malaise from the outset. Wil is a paragon of husbandly virtue when confronted with the overflowing sexuality of Cheryl. Marvin’s dealings with Abby are expunged of any perverse dimension.


It is only in the interplay between Karen and Joe that the film momentarily heats up. She lets him begin his usual dance of sexual menace, meanwhile dexterously hiding a razor blade in her underwear. What follows really makes Trapped worth seeing.


MORE Mandoki: Born Yesterday

© Adrian Martin February 2003

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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