Friday, November 28, 2014

"Sabotage" (2014)

Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Olivia Williams and Sam Worthington
Written by Skip Woods and David Ayer
Directed by David Ayer
Rated R - Strong violence, language, nudity
Running Time: 109 Minutes
Trailer

John "Breacher" Wharton leads an elite squad of DEA tactical agents. On his team are James "Monster" Murray (Sam Worthington) and his wife Lizzy Murray (Mirielle Enos), Julius "Sugar" Edmonds (Terrence Howard), Joe "Grinder" Phillips (Joe Manganiello), Tom "Pyro" Roberts (Max Martini), Eddie "Neck" Jordan (Josh Holloway), Bryce "Tripod" McNeely (Kevin Vance) and "Smoke" Jennings (Mark Shlegel). And together they have just stolen $10 million from a vicious drug cartel during a DEA raid. But later that evening when they go to retrieve their stolen payout from its hiding place, they find that someone's taken the money.

Worse, the DEA figures out that $10 million is missing from the raid and puts the team under intense scrutiny. Six months later, the team is splintered. They've lost their trust in each other. And things are about to get worse: Someone starts picking them off. One by one, the bodies are found mutilated in ways that implicate the cartel, and Breacher partners with Atlanta PD homicide detective Caroline Brentwood (Olivia Williams) to find out who's offing his friends.

The closer Brentwood gets to the case, however, the less it seems to make sense. Who is playing whom? Who are the real killers? And what happened to all that dirty money?

"Sabotage" is an interesting role for Arnold Schwarzenegger. The man's made a career out of playing larger than life, over the top characters. He's rarely attempted to play anything all that realistic or understated.

But it's also a role that befits Schwarzenegger's advanced age. At 67, it is really difficult for him to pull off the kinds of roles he's known for. Now that he's come back to acting after his years in politics, he's been picking some interesting roles for himself. It seems like Scwharzenegger and the filmmakers he works with know that even though he's clearly still in excellent shape, he just can't believably do all the stuff he did in the 80s and 90s, so they're pulling him back a little and surrounding him with capable younger co-stars and giving him a leader or mentorship role. While his appearances in the three "Expendables" films are basically just glorified cameos, his first starring role back in "The Last Stand" understood this as well, though it puts Schwarzenegger through his paces much more than "Sabotage" does.

As for the performance itself, well, it's Arnold Schwarzenegger. Let's be honest here, the man's really just not all that good a dramatic performer. The good thing about his role in "Sabotage" is that he doesn't really need to be, but in a different way than his earlier action roles. Here, he's playing, well, a tired old man whose life of action is mostly behind him. For the most part, he manages to get it. Breacher is a fairly quiet man, but he gets along well with his team and he really doesn't give a shit about much or anyone else. He's quiet and seems like he's angry all the time, and it works through much of the film, and I'll get to when it doesn't in a bit.

The rest of the cast all actually do wonderful jobs inhabiting their roles, with one caveat. The members of Breacher's team disappear beneath makeup and hair styles, all except Terrence Howard. Sam Worthington and Mirielle Enos, however, are damn near unrecognizable and it works out great. Enos in particular gives a dirty, angry performance that would be remarkable if it weren't so one note. The same can also be said for the other team members, who are all interesting to watch but don't get much in the way of development or depth.

Olivia Williams is great in her role as Detective Brentwood. She's driven and smart, but fallible - she makes mistakes in her investigation that cost her. She has excellent chemistry with both Schwarzenegger and her partner, Darius Jackson (Harold Perrineau). Her's is probably the best performance in the entire film.

Director David Ayer is an interesting filmmaker. He likes to experiment with his camera work and editing, which works out well in making "Sabotage" a visually interesting film. He attaches his camera to some interesting viewpoints, like the barrel of a gun and facing toward the person firing it, or the underside of a car's front bumper during a chase. It makes for some really outstanding and thrilling moments during the film's action sequences.

However, while the film's performances and action sequences stand out, its plot twists feel oddly limp. Revelations of who took the money and who's been killing Breacher's teammates feel like they just sort of happen, without any real dramatic heft. This feels like it has to do with Ayer's filming style again, which seems to emphasize technical matters and quiet moments rather than typical dramatic beats. This saps "Sabotage" of some of its intended power.

The extended ending is also problematic. It puts Schwarzenegger into an outfit that, frankly, makes him look ridiculous and then just goes on for entirely too long. It's a scene that might have had more impact without being so explicit, but the movie seems to feel like we need to see this even though we don't. And for some reason, I can't shake the feeling, looking at his face, that Schwarzenegger feels the same way. This is the only part of the movie where his performance doesn't really work, and part of it is probably that damn outfit.

Ultimately, "Sabotage" proves itself to be more of an interesting film than a good one. It has a number of good or even great performances and features some excellent action sequences, but the dramatic beats of the story don't work out quite so well.