|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 11 January 2000|
‘Oxygen’ is a nasty but moderately involving thriller about a troubled cop squaring off against a smart sociopath.
Madeleine Forrester (Maura Tierney) is a brilliant NYPD detective but a mess as a human being, dealing with a drinking problem and dangerous masochistic impulses. She crosses paths professionally with a criminal who calls himself Harry Houdini (Adrien Brody). Harry and his partner have abducted the wife (Laila Robins) of a rich man (James Naughton) and buried her alive in a grave, promising to disclose her location for the sum of $1 million.
Harry takes a special interest in Madeleine, though not in a way that usually plays out in low-budget thrillers with female protagonists. Indeed, one of the more refreshing aspects of ‘Oxygen’ is that its heroine’s behavior, appearance and wardrobe are all credible for a woman working in law enforcement. Tierney’s tough, sorrowful cop is a worthy protagonist, while Brody’s agile, bright and ever-alert Harry is an intriguing figure. Director/writer Richard Shepard bites off more than he can chew by giving both characters such intense psychological quirks and then not exploring them more, but he does create a tense, believable environment that keeps us interested in not only the outcome but in the road that takes us there.
Composer Rolfe Kent’s music is unusually good and subtle, almost blending into the ambient track in Chapter 4, asserting itself with quiet menace in Chapter 9 and making intriguing, strong use of percussive chimes in Chapter 22. The sound on the film has its pluses and minuses. Respiration – as indicated by the title – is emphasized here, so that we get some uncommonly resonant breathing sounds in Chapter 4. Sometimes, however, it seems that the sound mix is set for a different shot than what’s on screen. In Chapter 3 – a sequence that will traumatize claustrophobic viewers – we’re inside the makeshift coffin with the terrified kidnap victim. However, the sound sometimes switches around, suddenly muffling her voice, as though we’re meant to be hearing the dampened cries from outside the burial area. Chapter 8 fails to compensate for the fact that the actors – Brody in particular – are almost whispering, so that the volume needs to be increased in order to catch what’s being said.
Those interested in checking out the supplemental material on ‘Oxygen’ should be aware that the disk has a somewhat unconventional set-up. A display of black-and-white storyboards for a car crash sequence, narrated by director Shepard and editor Adam Lichtenstein, is where you’d expect to find it, under "Special Features." However, the feature-length audio commentary track with Shepard and stars Tierney and Brody is instead found in the "Set-Up" menu. The commentary sounds unrehearsed, with the three commentators reminiscing, gossiping and occasionally mildly squabbling in mildly diverting fashion.
Some of ‘Oxygen’ is fairly horrific, not in gore but in intensity (even Shepard and Brody say in the commentary that certain sequences disturbed them). It’s not a light diversion and in the end doesn’t explore its themes as thoroughly as it might, but it’s effectively disquieting and generates a respectable sense of internal cohesiveness.
If you liked this movie, you might also enjoy; Copycat, The Cell