I had an hour or so to kill today within striking distance of a cinema so I took a chance on Arnold Schwarzenegger’s new film, Sabotage.
Hours later I’m at a loss as to how to describe it. It’s not bad, not great, just…..strange.
First off it’s not a typical Arnie movie. Rated 16s in Ireland, it’s very graphically gory at regular intervals. Pools of blood, piles of body organs, bullets ripping through flesh. Plus a little nudity and robust language. Far from run-of-the-mill fare for Schwarzenegger.
Equally he’s joined in the cast by other big name actors – Mireille Enos, Olivia Williams, Sam Worthington and Terence Howard. Josh Holloway, Harold Perrineau Jr., Martin Donovan and Max Martini will be familiar faces from TV. So, not a one man band star vehicle, again unusual.
The storyline centres John ‘Breacher’ Wharton (Schwarzenegger), leading a rough and ready ultra macho ragtag band of DEA agents carrying out special operations against major drug smugglers. During one raid $10 million goes missing; Breacher and team are suspended. The rest of the film resolves what happened to the money – and who’s systematically slaughtering members of the team one by one by ever more inventively gruesome means.
Scene after scene of blood and gore should be distinctly uncomfortable to watch – for me especially since I have an unfortunate tendency to get woozy when the red stuff flows. But here lies the problem with the film: we never really get engaged enough to care much what happens. Nor do any of the characters on screen react with much shock or horror, or anything near what might be expected in the situations in which they find themselves. Resigned and fatalistic veterans they may be, but if the characters don’t care about themselves, why should we?
Which oddly is not to say the that the film is boring. Sabotage manages to hold the attention, but the viewer remains at a distance, a casual observer always conscious of being on the outside looking in. You never become involved enough to have any strong feelings, let alone engrossed enough to be fearful or anxious. Given the oceans of blood, no-holds barred violence and legions of painful deaths on display this ironically works to the film’s advantage.
For an action/crime film with a high quota of murders, it has little tension or suspense. Despite the presence of talented actors (and Arnold), we learn little about any of the characters, their past or what makes them tick. Despite numerous references to the team being ‘a family’ and loud pledges to ‘take a bullet for them’ nothing on screen convinces or explains why this might be so. The script is basic and minimalist, to the point of parody in places. Some lines exist solely to mark Arnie out from the herd. They add nothing and often seem badly out of place, as do many scenes that could well be from an entirely different version of the story. Indeed at times it seems the film was edited from a number of diverging storylines that took alternative approaches, and the finished version ultimately fails to reconcile the differences and patch the joins smoothly.
Overall, the tone varies from comedy scenes in the early section of the film to dark and dour. On a few occasions the director has thrown in some sporadic experimentation, using unusual camera angles and views – a perspective looking from the barrel of a gun as it fires, or toward it; one scene where present action and flashback are blended together so as to mislead the viewer, others where they merely feature alongside one another. No consistency in approach or application, just a few irregular and erratic moments. It’s almost like everybody involved lost interest at some point or had somewhere else they needed to be.
Mireille Enos has the strongest and most memorable performance, followed closely by Olivia Williams. Arnold plays Arnold like only Arnold can, his Austrian accent as impervious to softening as the Alps are to weather.
For the novelty value, worth a look.