Another degree of Kevin Bacon 

As so often happens in the American cinema, the new movie Trapped, no doubt purely accidentally, strikes a chord that chimes with current events and contemporary media hysteria. In a time when so-called journalists, especially on the 24-hour news channels, positively drool, in their usual manner, over sensational reports of the disappearance, abduction, sexual assault, and murder of children, this motion picture deals with a group of professional kidnappers, who have pulled four profitable jobs in the past. Whatever its popularity in some European countries, serial kidnapping as a criminal activity simply doesn't occur in the United States, which suggests that both the crime and the film must be unique.

            Before the credits roll, the screen shows grainy, jumpy, washed-out, extreme close-up shots of a barely identifiable couple in a car: a man taunting a woman, who pleads for the life of her son. The man, as it turns out, is Joe Hickey (Kevin Bacon), an especially clever and sadistic kidnapper, who has perfected what seems to be a foolproof method of snatching a child, collecting a sizable ransom, and returning the child without the authorities ever discovering that a crime was committed. Carefully planned, meticulously organized, and tightly scheduled, the schemes work so well that Hickey and his associates --- his wife Cheryl (Courtney Love) and cousin Marvin (Pruitt Taylor Vance) --- full of confidence and tempered by experience, are about to embark on their fifth job.

            After the credits, the film, in effect, opens again, cutting to a panorama of a gorgeous lake in the forests near Portland, Oregon. In contrast to the crowded, uncomfortable interior of the car, as the camera pulls back, color seeps into the frame, allowing a full sense of the beauty and tranquility of the scene. That striking cinematic difference emphasizes the contrast between the Hickeys and another family: Will and Karen Jennings (Stuart Townsend and Charlize Theron) and their sweet little daughter, Abby (Dakota Fanning).

            Will and Karen conspicuously enjoy the fruits of his success as a well-known and respected anesthesiologist. Will's achievements are best symbolized by the airplane he pilots from his dock on the lake to a medical conference in Seattle. With that sort of affluence and the family's apparent closeness, we all know disaster lurks somewhere out of sight of the camera.

            Soon after Will flies off, Joe and Marvin break into the Jennings' home. Marvin takes Abby to a cabin on another lake, and Joe stays with Karen to make his demands and, more importantly, control the whole situation. He induces her cooperation by telling her that she holds the power over her daughter's life --- if Marvin doesn't receive a cell phone call from Joe every thirty minutes, he will kill Abby. Having established the rules, he tells her how she and her husband can transfer $250,000 to Seattle, where Cheryl Hickey, who's holding a gun on Will, can pick it up in the morning. The whole family is, indeed, trapped.

            Not surprisingly, a sexual element complicates the neat, simple operation --- Joe customarily exacts sex from the mothers whose children he abducts (he explains that he chooses them not only for their money and their isolation, but for their looks). Cheryl, apparently, does the same with the fathers, now and then. The script presumably employs this factor to heighten the tension in what could otherwise become a static and repetitive situation, and to compound the cruelty of Joe's game of cat and mouse.

            The writing and direction extract a good deal of suspense, fright, and shock from an essentially predictable plot. Within the constricted set of the Jennings' home, the director cuts rapidly from actor to actor, constantly changing angles, alternating a smooth flow of vision with hand-held jerkiness and abrupt shifts in point of view, even changing the perspective and depth of focus. He also intercuts scenes of the other settings --- the cabin where Marvin is holding Abby and the hotel room where Cheryl has imprisoned Will --- to prevent the film from settling into one ultimately dull interior.

            Trapped works for most of its length --- that is, until a final, excessive, and quite incredible climactic chase --- thanks to the skill of the actors and the authenticity of the dialogue. The slim, lithe, lovely Charlize Theron handles her part --- the stereotypical damsel in distress --- relatively well, juggling desperation, rage, and sexiness with a modicum of skill. Good old Courtney Love, who gives good slut, adds a touch of pathos to her now familiar portrayal of the soiled dove.

            As the villain, however, Kevin Bacon really carries the film, which suggests a future for an actor who has become a party game. Looking younger than his years, he displays an offhand, insinuating manner; a sneering condescension; and an obvious delight in the pain he inflicts, confirming a bent for the sinister Bacon's demonstrated on and off in past films. If he continues in the vein of Trapped, he may attain the same effect as Bruce Dern's deceptively soft-voiced nastiness, Kiefer Sutherland's sniveling whine, or William Forsythe's demented squint.

            A film that may have begun life as a vehicle for Charlize Theron may well revive Bacon's career, making Trapped not a trap, but a springboard.

Trapped, starring Kevin Bacon, Charlize Theron, Courtney Love, Pruitt Taylor Vance, Stuart Townsend, Dakota Fanning, Steve Rankin, Gary Chalk, Jodie Markell, Matt Koby, Andrew Airlie; based upon the novel 24 Hours, by Greg Iles; screenplay by Greg Iles; directed by Luis Mandoki. Cinemark Tinseltown; Hoyts Greece Ridge; Loews Webster; Regal Culver Ridge; Regal Eastview; Regal Henrietta.

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