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movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Saw

Starring: Tobin Bell, Cary Elwes
Director: James Wan
Rated: R
RunTime: 100 Minutes
Release Date: October 2004
Genres: Horror, Suspense

*Also starring: Danny Glover, Ken Leung, Dina Meyer, Monica Potter, Shawnee Smith, Leigh Whannell

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Review by Harvey Karten
3 stars out of 4

P>We've all seen movies, read stories, or heard on the TV about someone or other who has escaped from a life-threatening experience, or perhaps has terminal, inoperable cancer with only a few months to live. Such people are likely to say that they appreciate every day of life, that the world is full of wonderful things, generous people, pure joy. If only the rest of us, those who are not afflicted or who have had cushy lives, could see this, they would seize the day. In fact someone in James Wan's horror film "Saw," co-written by actor Leigh Whannell from the director's story, is so determined to impress us with the importance of living every day or month as though it were our last that's he's willing to play games, to toy with a few individuals until they are convinced of what seems axiomatic to the misguided psychopath. By way of comparison, think of the Michael Douglas character in David Fincher's "The Game," a man who get an unusual birthday present from his brother to play a sophisticated game that strips Douglas of his calm, prosperous life and puts him in deadly situations just to get his blood boiling, to have him drop his adult repressions.

"Saw" has just a few characters to play a version of Fincher's game, some of whom appear destined to die in horrible ways such as a bound woman who has an iron mask screwed onto her head who must locate the key to the mask's lock by extracting it from inside the stomach of a newly paralyzed man lying next to her.

The principal characters are co-writer Leigh Wannell as Adam and Cary Elwes as Dr. Lawrence Gordon, both of whom find themselves tightly bound at the ankles in a filthy bathroom of a sewage plant. Neither knows how he got there. Both insist that they do not know each other, which makes them wonder why they are chosen to live a few feet from a dead body holding a revolver, a pool of blood around the victim's head. The crazed killer warns Gordon that the doctor must kill Adam by 6 p.m., some fifteen hours away, or Gordon's wife and child will be shot.

The best part of the story takes place in the claustrophobic environs of the bathroom as a tale that could conceivably find a place in a small, off-off-Broadway theater, a battle of nerves pitting both characters against a murderer while at the same time Dr. Gordon must act against his newly-introduced associate. Since this is a film, however, James Wan opens up the tale to bring in the doctor's wife and child, showing the man's loving relationship to the six-year-old daughter while at the same time he is challenged by his wife to care more about the family. Less involving is the backstory of Adam's days as a photographer, a man who in one instance has been hired to get the goods on someone who is committing adultery in a seedy motel.

If the story gets confusing at points, it's only because Wan is following the conventions of the horror tale. Bring in some red herrings, drop hints about the guilt of someone who turns out to be perfectly innocent, then let the tale unravel at its conclusion, at which point we say, "Aha, I knew the nut job was [Mr. X] all the time."

Cary Elwes, an oncologist handsomer than any other physician you'll ever see including Marcus Welby, turns out a decent performance using Leigh Whannell as his foil, while Danny Glover gets to play increasingly knowledgeable detective David Tapp–who may have had a breakdown since the violent death of his partner, Steven Sing (Ken Leung). The picture is perfect for Halloween, an enormously gory version of trick-or-treat, where the prize consists of simply surviving while the trick could involve the sawing away of a foot to gain release from an ankle chain.

Copyright © 2004 Harvey Karten

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