4x4

***1/2

Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

4x4
"It's frantic at the fore, but contains some of the most accurate depiction of both boredom and resignation I can recall."

4x4 is a taut and claustrophobic bit of thriller. A thief (Peter Lanzani) attempts to steal a vehicle, the eponymous automobile. It does not go well. It is a snare. Not just the faux-fox badger-like badge on the grille like a challenge to a Duel, there's a decal marked Predator on the side. It'd be tempting to suggest the silver SUV was the Aristotlean unities with a trans-axle and limited-slip differentials, but that's slightly more pithy than accurate. Tragedy and, at times, comedy will follow, but the scale is a mite bigger than the four walls upon those four wheels. We can see either end of a quiet Argentinian street, from corner to T-Junction, dumpster to billboards.

There is a movie poster for an (as yet nonexistent) sequel - an Easter Egg, as The Man Next Door (properly El hombre de al lado) shares a director and producer with this. Gastón Duprat and Mariano Cohn co-wrote, Cohn directing, and they are frequent collaborators. They've experience in a variety of forms, TV, shorts, and on the basis of this film's lighter moments and it's not infrequent darker ones, both comic and dramatic chops.

Copy picture

Lanzani has a lot to do, and does it well. Kiko de la Rica's cinematography manages to be both kinetic and claustrophobic, but it's the actor who gives each motion and form. From condensation to raindrops, I was minded of Shape Of Water in how important an actor was to windows. Some shots produce the same sense of the impossible as that pirouette that defied time and (Renault e)space in Children Of Men. There are moments that are a product of the transformative powers of small and subtle computer graphics. A rainbow is as false as the lack of colour in de la Rica's work on Blancanieves but it still rings true.

As does the plot. For those unities, one action, one location, but a bit more than one day. Pacy within its roughly 90 minutes, there are moments fast and slow. From the first throw of a tennis ball, 4x4 lays out its trap with a convincing haste. The die-cast car becomes trap. At first Ciro seems entirely in gear, but it becomes clear he's met a match. Boxed in, he panics, and the escalation of his panic speaks of decisions as well made behind the camera as they are poorly made in front. Lanzani has slightly more room to move than Ryan Reynolds did in Buried, but the early mistakes he makes are differently grave.

There are artefacts of modernity. The CG is important, the inevitable mechanisms to deal with mobile telephony, but a lot here is old-fashioned. Not, perhaps, Ancient Greek poetics, but nonetheless of a traditional model. There are any number of cinematic criminals become hostage by their own petard (to gratuitously mix metaphors, a habit not barred). The motivations and complications are sometimes here overheard expositions, others as simple as the placement of jewellery in a shot. There's an inevitability to a lot of what follows, but to say more is to give away some of 4x4's revelations. While it's not saying too much to say that it rarely strays off-road, even with the active suspension locked, it travels quickly into terra incognita.

The 4x4 is, if you're wondering, a Toyota Fortuner, an SUV sold in South America and Asia which shares design language and components with the Hilux pickup family. This isn't a stock model, however, and Ciro's further modifications don't so much gild the lily as shower the seats with gold. The badge on the front has ears, but it's not the only prominent logo, one that the credits reveal was, indeed, product placement. There's an important moment in those credits to, one which doesn't so much undermine the film's moral arc as underscore it.

The vehicle is a trap but it is neither deceptive icon nor autocthon. As with Phone Booth, High-Rise, the various bits of the Saw franchise, this test of mettle has a hand behind it. How and why it came to be berthed here is delivered in small increments. Through the polarised windows, Ciro has the chance to see the outside world, but each of those moments serves to contract his confinement in comparison.

For all the features it shares with other films, 4x4 isn't by the numbers. It's frantic at the fore, but contains some of the most accurate depiction of both boredom and resignation I can recall. There's some proper bleakness, language aside it's probably due a warning for both ideation and mechanisms of (self-)harmful intent. With no small measure of invention, it moves even as it doesn't. It's not an irresistible force, but nor am I an immovable object. Even from establishing shots of cages and CCTV, broken glass concreted atop walls, the scuzz of guitar, 4x4 is intent on traction, and it connects at the ground, and the guts. Makeup effects and technical skill, from enhanced reflections to sound design all create something visceral, transporting.

Reviewed on: 04 Feb 2021
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A petty thief finds himself trapped in a hi-tech car he was boosting.

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