Much ado about Toothpaste…
Four petty criminals share a minuscule cell and spend most of their days playing poker and exchanging tall stories. One day, a game of poker runs out of hand and the weakest player of the foursome loses a bet…
Now, I am familiar with the director’s questionable reputation and I am aware that Uwe Boll bashing is quite a popular sport on internet forums (heck, I also agree that most of his movies are utter rubbish), but there are a couple of remarkable things about this man’s career that you can’t possibly neglect. You even have to admire it, in some strange sort of way. First of all, the man is a hard laborer. Few directors have released an average of four movies per year, especially when they also write and produce their own garbage. Secondly, Boll‘s repertoire is getting more and more versatile and accessible to wider audiences lately. Initially he specialized in adaptations of gory video games, but recently he made cynical comedies ( ) as well as action flicks ( ) and gritty thrillers ( ). And then last but not least, the man is not ashamed to experiment, innovate and – if necessary – to blunder ingloriously. This newly released movie Stoic, for example. All things considered it turned out a failure, but nevertheless a mild and intriguing one with still a whole lot of merits and praiseworthy factors.
I feel I should start with a warning to the squeamish, as Stoic is a deeply unpleasant movie with an unceasingly guttural atmosphere and a large amount of inhumanly barbarous shock sequences. At the Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival in my native country, where Uwe Boll and lead actor Edward Furlong came to introduce the film themselves, several people walked out of the theater because they couldn’t cope with the harshness of certain bits of footage. I realize this works more as a recommendation than a warning, but be advised this is not a movie for everyone. You’ll notice during the opening sequences, or here on this film’s website page as well, that nobody is credited for writing Stoic. That is simply because there isn’t a screenplay. Uwe Boll based the concept on true events as they occurred in a German prison in 2006 and only gave the most principal of instructions as his cast of four improvised all their lines and dialogs at the spot. This is obviously a risky undertaking, but admittedly it suits the tone of the film which is primitive and raw. Four petty criminals share a minuscule cell and spend most of their days playing poker and exchanging stories on how bad-ass they are. One day, a game of poker runs out of hand and the mentally weakest of the four – Mitch – loses a bet which ordered him to eat a complete tube of toothpaste. He stubbornly refuses and the other three team up against him. What starts out as a silly macho contest, quickly escalates into a sick-spirited and vile series of humiliation, torture, vicious rape, mutilation and eventually inflicted suicide.
Stoic is imaginatively structured, with interview scenes of the three culprits mixed with the footage of what actually happened inside those four prison walls. Initially the three convicts claim it was an ordinary case of suicide, but the truth gradually comes to the surface as they only want to protect themselves and begin to blame the other ones of having the lead. The main malfunction of this movie is that it actually has no reason of existence. It’s an exploitative and unimaginably gratuitous piece of torture-shock, without added psychological or socialist value whatsoever. Boll pretends to give an insight in human behavior, but basically only stills his own personal hunger for sleaze and violence. We only know the formula is based on true events, but this film draws its own conclusions that are unquestionably far more sensational and grotesque than what really happened. There clearly went very little research into this production prior to shooting, so it would be immensely hypocritical to label Stoic as a dramatic portrait of our modern day prison system.
Nevertheless I don’t want to criticize Mr. Boll‘s accomplishment any further, as he definitely improved a great deal when it comes to directorial skills and competence. You can sense that he was in control of his filming set and had the luck of working with four adequate young actors, including Edward Furlong and Sam Levinson. Stoic is a mean and uncomfortable film that I don’t exactly intend to watch again any time soon, but it’s undeniably a memorable and out-of-the-ordinary experience.