Butterfly on a Wheel
Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller
Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Maria Bello, Gerard Butler
“Who Breaks a Butterfly on a Wheel?”
It is that simple question, first written by Alexander Pope that forms the core intention behind this film. For those unaware, as a capital punishment a ‘breaking wheel,’ was used well into the 19th century. The guilty party would be strapped to a large wooden wheel, arms and legs outstretched, and the wheel spun violently until the bones in your body snapped and you died from your injuries – a process that could often take days. Even then it was considered an unfair punishment in proportion to their crimes, and was reserved for the most heinous of people. The question proposed is who would take something delicate and beautiful and break apart the bones keeping it together until only the disfigured remnants remain?
A picturesque family, Abby (Bello) the housewife contently looking after their daughter whilst the husband Neil (Butler) works up the career ladder, preparing for a getaway with his boss that could spell a big promotion for him. Enter Tom Ryan (Brosnan), a man with a mission responsible for kidnapping their daughter and holding them both at gunpoint. All he wants is for them to do anything he asks of them for the next 24 hours; just enough time for him to completely destroy their lives, tear apart their finances, demolish Neil’s career and push their relationship to breaking point, all to find out just if they really would do anything to save their child.
You may be thinking that this is another simple kidnapping focussed thriller, but what distinguishes this from the herd is the thought that has gone into each of the characters. All three are multi-faceted layered characters allowed to run rampant with that side of them usually kept locked away; the constant power play between Brosnan and Butler, testing each other as Butler strives for breathing space, finding out how much he can get away with before Brosnan snaps, lending a tremendous energy to the scenes that couldn’t have been accomplished with a lesser cast. And through this comes Maria Bello, treading an altogether more subtle role, lending the most subtle of clues all too easily missed. Each actor genuinely surprised me, proving their capabilities beyond their 2-D typecast roles (Brosnan as Bond and Butler in 300 in particular).
Neither does the script fail to provide, delivering excellent flow, a constant maintenance of its high pace throughout its short length; any excess fat that doesn’t directly contribute has been trimmed to deliver an array of poignant scenes, furthering the game of cat and mouse they find themselves swept up in until the conclusion that – rarely I find – actually succeeded in being difficult to predict without coming out of nowhere. It’s the intelligence and realism that prevents me from yawning and rolling my eyes at what could have easily been another bland film, and it’s the acting that convinces me I’ve stumbled upon one of better thrillers of recent years.