Gerard Butler plays Neil Randall, a super-successful Chicago businessman on his way to the top of his firm. Married to attractive Abby (Maria Bello), Neil seemingly has the perfect life. He's a shark at work (neatly undercutting a partner to garner a plum presentation), he has a fabulous house in a beautiful Chicago suburb, and a beautiful little girl named Sophie (Emma Karwandy). Ready to take a weekend trip with his boss, Neil's bags are packed in the car, a babysitter from their service arrives to take care of Sophie, and Abby is ready to drop him off.
On the way into town, though, Tom Ryan (Pierce Brosnan), a mysterious, apparently remorseless psychopath, pops up from the back seat of the Randall's car, brandishing a gun, and informing them that their daughter has been kidnapped. What follows is an increasingly devastating series of tasks that Ryan makes the couple perform, including drawing out all of their personal savings and burning it, having Neil almost fall off a building ledge as a trial to see how much he loves his wife, and making Abby turn over incriminating documents to one of Neil's rivals, implicating him in industrial espionage. In other words, Tom is setting out to systematically destroy the Randall's personal and professional life - with absolutely no motivation. Why is he out to ruin the Randalls, in such a particularly brutal and sadistic, humiliating fashion?
The main problem with Shattered, aside from obvious clues throughout the film pointing to the non-surprise "surprise" twist ending, is, what else, Pierce Brosnan. Anyone who's read my book on spy films (all twelve of you) knows that I'm no fan of Brosnan's acting, and while I found him agreeably narcissistic and vain during his fluffy Remington Steele days (he's a perfect TV actor), when any kind of dramatic weight is needed in a film, he's woefully overmatched. And he's no better here. Shattered was one of Brosnan's post-Bond attempts to vary his screen image, but, as always with this actor, one never feels we're watching a true character on the screen. We're watching Brosnan play-acting at a character. "Tom Ryan" never felt real to me, nor did he come off as suitably menacing or dangerous - which is absolutely critical for the film to work. Too shallow, too superficial, and still too interested in how he looks on the screen (Brosnan's effort to look "tough" by wearing the neatest trimmed facial scruff you've ever seen, while his hair stays immaculate, is hysterical), Brosnan can't even match the burly, thuggish Gerard Butler in the action scenes. When Brosnan is supposedly roughing up Butler in one scene, it's patently ridiculous looking; it's obvious Butler could dust him off with one half-hearted blow.
So if the "villain" doesn't work in the film, what's the point of Shattered, then? The ending, where Brosnan comes out the "hero," if you will, is poorly staged, and ultimately, not at all surprising. When a film like Shattered stays rigidly on a trio of characters, and refuses to explain why the villain is behaving as he is, you can pretty much bet - unless the filmmakers are total cheats who bring in a new character at the climax - that one of the other "innocents" is involved in the plot. And since so much time is spent on showing Butler going through trauma after trauma, while Bello makes one obvious mistake in judgment after another (even my little kid said, "Why does she keep telling him not to call the cops?), it doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure out, early on, what's going on. And as I've written before, I'm the worst guy in the world to figure these things out - and that's on purpose. I just like to let a mystery flow over me; I'm not out hunting for clues, and treating a film like a personal puzzle. So if I was noticing obvious red herrings right from the start, and I figured out the twist within the first act, something's wrong with the suspense element of Shattered.
On the plus side, there is some terrific lensing from British cinematographer Ashley Rowe (Vancouver, standing in for Chicago, looks appropriately sleek and menacing), and a stand-out score, full of thumping, pulsating cues, by Robert Duncan. Maria Bello, an accomplished actress, has almost nothing to do here but say, "Just do it!" to Butler about fifty times (we do get a shot of her in lingerie, though, which seems to be a reoccurring theme in her films, thankfully). And director Mike Barker, while saddled with a less-than-compelling script, does manage to keep things moving along at a fast clip, while keeping the visuals interesting. It's just a pity that the material here, as well as the lead, let him down.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.