{Movie Review} 4 x 4: A High-Concept Thriller with Something to Say

On paper, the Argentine-Spanish thriller 4 x 4 shouldn’t work as well as it does. Its premise about a thief trapped in an SUV and tormented by a vengeful doctor appears silly. But surprisingly, the film works well as a wild ride, bolstered by Peter Lanzani’s solid performance as Ciro. Further, the movie sparks universal debate about insecurity and justice.

Directed and co-written by Mariano Cohn, 4 x 4 immediately kicks into high gear. The opening features shots of homes in Buenos Aires with barred windows and doors, barbed wire fences, and several security cameras. This establishes a sense of danger and insecurity. Moments later, Ciro spots a shiny SUV and tries to steal its stereo system. Initially, he’s repulsive. Not only does he break into the truck, but he gleefully pees on the backseat.

Yet, despite his initial horrendous actions, Ciro draws some sympathy due to the torture he endures. The SUV belongs to Enrique Ferrari (Dady Brieva), a man who has been robbed several times and has witnessed his share of violence in an unstable Argentina. He communicates with Ciro through the truck’s phone.

The vehicle features bulletproof and polarized windows, along with steel encasing. There’s no escape  from this lockbox of horror. He tortures Ciro as the movie progresses, including forcing him to drink water from the vehicle’s water hose, raising and lowering the AC, and prying personal information from him. Ciro’s torture is both physical and mental, and Lanzani’s anguished performance deserves accolades. Without it, the film wouldn’t work.

Photo Courtesy of Red Hound Films

Aspects of 4 x 4 make for a visceral viewing experience.  Ciro is forced to drink his own urine. He shivers beneath floor mats when Enrique cranks up the AC. His hunger pains and the close-ups of his grimaced face make for a tough watch at times. Yet, it also makes Ciro a complex character. Initially, he’s presented as a thug, but the revenge-thirsty doctor’s punishment is worse.

Despite the fact that the film mostly takes place in a parked vehicle, the suspense rarely subsides. Each time that the phone rings, the tension heightens as the lead is forced to endure more brutal trials and tribulations, sometimes receiving awards, like a chocolate bar hidden beneath the seats. Even worse, Ciro witnesses and watches city life unfold before him, powerless to call for help.

In this sense, the city becomes as much of a character as the SUV. It’s a living, breathing urban landscape with highs and lows that Ciro observes. He watches another thief try and fail to break into the SUV, before police arrest him and neighbors surround and watch. Yet, he also witnesses brothers walking to school and a wife and husband looking out for each other. Much of the citizens’ anger is unleashed upon the police, who they view as incompetent and too weak to deal with the city’s crime. There’s something powerful and heartbreaking about the fact that Ciro watches all of this play out, but no one can save him.

The film only falters in the last 20 minutes or so, once Ciro’s no longer caged. At this point, the movie veers into a hostage-type of situation with some philosophizing about justice. It comes across as too heavy-handed and generally lacks the type of edge-of-your-seat suspense that the rest of the film contains. 4 x 4 works much better when Enrique is just a voice on the phone, waging psychological warfare against a belabored thief.

Overall, 4 x 4 is well worth the viewing experience. Though it’s a captivating thriller that keeps its foot on the pedal, it’s also a film with something to say about Argentina’s woes and the universal debate about justice. Lanzani is captivating in the lead role, carrying a film that relies on a single location and very few actors. Cohn created both a smart and engaging film, an engaging ride that handles its message well.

Red Hounds Films will release 4 x 4 on Digital and VOD on February 2.

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