Oxygen review by Matt Fuerst


If you're a fan of flicks, then you've probably taken more than one trip into the mind of a serial killer. This is handled thematically in several different ways, we can witness the actions of the killer, either in real time or via flashbacks (Rampage for instance). We can take a trip directly into the killers mind, to try to understand the world as they see it (The Cell). Or, we can send a hot, nubile young hottie into an enclosed area with the nut job, and enjoy the discomfort involved. Often called Silence of the Lambs syndrome, rather unfairly I'd say, this is the route director Richard Shepard went with his 1999 film Oxygen.

I wanted to get the Silence comparison out of the way quickly since I felt it was an inevitable conclusion to come to, and you the reader likely would have had it in mind even if I didn't mention it by name. Oxygen kicks off with the nutty Harry (Adrien Brody) kidnapping Frances Hannon (Laila Robins), wife of a prominent businessman in New York City. Harry transports Frances out into the woods, and proceeds to bury her with enough oxygen for about 24 hours. Hubby Clark Hannon doesn't heed Harry's warnings, and goes to the police about the kidnapping, who arrange the ransom exchange. After the exchange, Harry gets snagged by Officer Madeline Foster.

While incarcerated, Harry proves to be quite the fussy little baby, demanding only to talk with Madeline, wanting the microphone removed from the room, wanting a rare roast beef sandwich (dude, that ain't good for you). Clark isn't too happy with "amateur hour" and pulls some strings and gets the FBI involved. The FBI bumps Madeline out of the way, so Harry leads them on a little goose chase for Frances. Harry keeps up the charade up as the clock keeps ticking towards the magical 24 hour mark for Frances' life.

If there was one thing that you'd come away with from Oxygen it's going to be the great New York City setting. After the exchange between Clark and Harry, we are treated with an especially well done car chase scene throughout downtown New York City that is shot extremely well. As a bonus on the Oxygen DVD is the fact that this particularly scene is broken down in depth with story boards and commentary from directory Shepard and editor Adam Lichtenstein. Aside from the chase scene, we also get some excellent long shots of the city, and a surprisingly nice helicopter scene for a movie whose budget I would imagine to be pretty low. Nice stuff. The inside, set shots are more sedate, but all flow quite nicely. And since a great portion of the flick takes place inside a New York City Police Department interrogation room, it's hard to be real creative with the setting.

Maura Tierney delivers an above average performance as a flawed public servant. Working for her husband, her character Madeline has this duality going on that is a major theme of the movie. Madeline understands the commitments of her marriage, and her public service, but cannot help but explore outside of these commitments. Harry questions her extensively on her dark side, feeling that they share this bond, both living outside of the norm. Madeline starts her day off taking down an escaped felon during off duty, putting in a days work, then heading to her gigolo who proceeds to torture her and pressure the alcoholic to drink. Leaving his pad, she is confronted by her partner, who informs her of Frances' kidnapping. The series of events is just too much for Madeline to withstand, and she begins to break down. Her character throughout this process is really well delivered and well written. Good work.

Adrien Brody as Harry, well, he's done better, but how much of it is his fault? In a crime flick like this, it's reasonable to leave the background details of a character out of the flick, but in place of that information you are going to have to step up the characterization to make up for the void. Sadly, I think this is the missing element of the film. Either shine a little light into what really is going on in Harry's head, or make him something more than a relatively stoic character. Sure he has a pretty decent number of lines, but what does he really say? "Give me this." "Isn't this fun?" , etc... I really loved his character in Spike Lee's Son of Sam, released the same year, so I know he's got quality, but you won't come away wowed by this performance.

Oxygen is amongst the latest batch of ultra-low priced DVD's. I picked mine up at a local superstore for less than $6, and you can buy it online retailer for about $6 shipped. Despite the low price, it is a surprisingly featured filled, quality release. I did notice a few flecks on the print, but I dare say it looks like they were on the original negative. Included is a commentary with director Shepard, Maura Tierney and Adrien Brody. There is also a film trailer, TV spots, the chase scene breakdown, and other less exciting features (filmographies, etc...).

All in all, the elements of the movie are all at average levels, with main character that is more interesting and well done than normal in Madeline, and an antagonist that is less interesting than he should be. I'd give Maura Tierney another shot based upon her work here.

5 out of 10 Jackasses
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