AVAILABLE: from Tribeca Film-On-Demand, from 9th April for eight weeks with Virgin Media, iTunes, Playstation and Xbox
RUNNING TIME: 83 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Paul Harris works at a small research facility on the outskirts of Boston. A quiet, shy and insecure man, he goes to a party where he gets friendly with co-worker Danielle and they end up having a weekend fling. He suggests they meet again to go to the cinema and then a restaurant, but after the cinema she makes excuses and asks Paul to take her home despite his disappointment. Eight months later, he is still working in the same building and still has feelings towards her, but she feels differently and starts to become friendly with another male co-worker. Paul, who has an ex-wife and son to contend with as well as some odd flashbacks, gets increasingly jealous.
Workplace romances can so easily go wrong and God I’ve had my share of this in my past, but nothing like what poor Paul, or indeed his co-worker and brief sexual partner Danielle, experience in Rubberneck. Rubberneck is a decent watch but its trailer is a little misleading for a film that is quite calm and quiet. I have a feeling that some may be a bit disappointed in such a low-key exercise, and low-key it certainly is, not so much a stalker flick as a very slow-burning psychological drama that relies a lot on its dialogue and acting to carry it along. There were a couple of times I myself wondered when the hell the movie was going to get going, and even when it seems to, it never really gathers pace. Based on a true police case, it’s certainly scarily believable and, as long as you don’t expect the usual thrills and spills, you may enjoy its measured, very detailed, approach. And it also has one of the most interesting psychotics we’ve seen in a film for ages, if psychotic he actually is.
You see Paul Harris is in some ways quite normal. He’s the kind of person you spend many of your days around but never notice. He’s average looking, to the point where he almost fades into the background. He’s cordial but not a person you would choose to go drinking with. He has a sister and likes to spend time with her son. Perhaps she knows him better than he knows himself? And he has this fling, which obviously means more to him than it does her. Rather than be totally straight with him, and many blokes reading this are probably thinking just how much better the world would be if women were always totally straight with us, she indicates very subtly that their relationship is over by just putting him off whenever he tries to meet up with her again. Danielle, who obviously senses what kind of a guy Paul is, doesn’t really treat him very well and I didn’t like her much for a while, even when Paul becomes infatuated with her and develops severe jealousy issues. I felt sorry for this guy, having to work with someone day and day out with whom he is besotted but does not return his feelings. He even tries to do the best thing and get a job somewhere else.
As the film develops and we get to know Paul more, stranger things come to the fore, but still nothing that screams PSYCHO. He regularly sees a prostitute, more for companionship than sex it seems. He has what seem like heart palpitations. He seems hypnotised by a woman he sees on the other side of an underground railway platform, but we don’t know why. The only thing which is glaringly obvious are brief flashbacks to some basement, and I was disappointed that the film had to resort to cliché here. Eventually, of course he does explode. You will know it’s going to come, but probably not exactly when, so when it does happen, it’s truly shocking even though it’s partially staged off-screen. Of course this does alter things, but doesn’t really change the feel of the film much even though it becomes a different kind of story for its final quarter. Nor does it, I think, stop the viewer from having sympathy for Paul. He doesn’t mean to do what he does, and I didn’t really want him to be caught.
For much of its length, Rubberneck is content to glide along slowly. We get a real sense of the work environment that most of the characters do their job in, the seeming authenticity increased by a real laboratory, than a set, being used. Characters talk, but the way they talk and their mannerisms are sometimes more important. A few too many scenes go nowhere, and the film could have built more suspense, but I suppose if it had done this it would have made Paul’s explosion less shocking. It does go downhill towards the end though. The film seems to be fighting a losing struggle against the realisation that there’s nowhere much for it to go, and, while it’s commendable that they seem to stick to what really happened and resist the temptation so sensationalise things, we really didn’t need a Psycho-style explanation at the end, and actually in this film it only really scratches the surface anyway. In this case, it would have been much better if they had not tried to explain Paul at all, or just provided little hints. Considering how intelligent the approach of the film is in general, it’s sad that they had to dumb things down a little, while the thing that I most wanted to know – whether Paul actually loves Danielle or not- we are not given an answer to.
Paul’s state of mind is constantly conveyed to us by the direction, the photography and the score. Cinematographer Beecher Cotton gives us a beautiful and rather haunting shot of Paul alone in the middle of a lake fishing, and shoots some gorgeous night-time footage involving cars whizzing by Paul as he stands by a road, possibly thinking about killing himself, possibly not. I couldn’t help thinking of God’s Lonely Man Travis Bickle. There’s also a stunning shot of Paul in a hotel room, bathed equally in black and orange. James Lavino’s electronic music drones on and on but that is the point, it’s the perfect aural evocation of Paul’s life cold, sterile existence, right from the very beginning. I’m really tiring of these sort of scores but it’s perfectly applied here. Director Alex Karpovsky is better known as an actor in indie comedies though this isn’t his first directorial effort. I hope it won’t be his last, because he does a very good job on Rubberneck, often using close-ups and long distance shots for emphasis. It’s just a shame that, in the end, his film doesn’t offer much in the way of surprises and seems a little forced towards the end, not helped by some seriously ropey acting from two cop characters.
Aside from that, the acting is superb in this movie. Karpovsky is simply fantastic as Paul, giving quite a multi-layered performance as a human powder keg, and interestingly we only really see him ‘lose it’ once. The four women in his life are also well played, especially Amanda Good Hennessey as his sister who has a really touching scene with him at the end, and Jaime Ray Newman in probably the most difficult role as Danielle; she’s neither good or bad, just a realistic, fully-rounded person with flaws, the major one being a certain thoughtlessness; I don’t think she means to hurt Paul. There is some interesting stuff going on in Rubberneck and it has some good qualities, though in the end it never reaches the high level I wanted it to. It may make you think twice about trying to hook up with that person you fancy at work though.