Members of an elite DEA task force find themselves being taken down one by one after they rob a drug cartel safe house.Members of an elite DEA task force find themselves being taken down one by one after they rob a drug cartel safe house.Members of an elite DEA task force find themselves being taken down one by one after they rob a drug cartel safe house.
If there is any indication that present era needs an aging, post- gubernatorial and post-scandal Arnold Schwarzenegger, David Ayer's "Sabotage" is the real deal - a no-holds-barred return to form for the Austrian Oak as a ruthless, dangerous being. If that doesn't convince you, then a shot showing a brooding, hooded Arnie will.
This isn't an all-out action bonanza, it's a riveting crime thriller with book-ending action sequences that aim to shock rather than awe. Watching an Ayer film otherwise would be missing the point. Like the superior "End of Watch", "Sabotage" has flawed human beings as the protagonists - trying to survive in a world where they think they understand.
Ayer uses the admittedly repetitive Agatha Christie-inspired whodunit plot as a background to explore the character of the protagonist John Wharton ("Breacher" to his comrades). He is regarded as some sort of legend in the DEA and a father figure among his dysfunctional team (a strong ensemble cast made up of Sam Worthington, Joe Manganiello, Terrence Howard, Max Martini, Josh Holloway and Mireille Enos), albeit with a reputation as notorious as his conquests. The opening shot sees the hulking figure stare ominously towards the laptop screen as the video of his wife getting brutalized and eventually murdered by a drug cartel plays in front of him. Stealing 10 million dollars from a cartel bust months later, the team gets picked off one by one. They succumb to their vices and let the paranoia and money go in over their head; this suspicion of each other effectively destroys the brotherhood. Wharton, already walking down a lonely path refusing to let the killings of his family go, is made subsequently worse with the offing of his team members.
Already with this shot the film's nihilistic message about the futility of the war on drugs is already established. There will be no winners or losers, just evil acts and their survivors. When he unsuccessfully tries to track down his family's killers, it haunts him to the point where it corrupts his soul, making him less gung-ho and more of a suicidal man on a mission. The suicidal factor becomes complete when he discovers that his actions may have led to the subsequent killings of his own team members in increasingly ghastly ways, pushing him even further down the brink as he tries to grasp that he's failing to protect the next thing that matters to him the most – his brotherhood.
Ayer and his team have crafted a dark, nightmarish and cynical world to the point of borderline nihilism. The few women shown in this film are either brutalized, objectified or corrupted – with the exception of two very interesting characters: the character of Lizzy with her coked-out bravado in a scene-stealing performance by Enos (TV's "The Killing"); and Investigator Brentwood (Olivia Williams with an over-the-top Southern accent more ludicrous than Schwarzenegger's) as a tough-as-nails detective that brings a strong foil to Arnold's character - the two make for an unusual but effective action duo near the end.
All of these themes were explored in various movies before, for better or worse. This concept was concocted by Skip Woods, whom you may remember butchered the last "Die Hard" film. Of course one can see the flaws of Woods' story through some inane plot plodding, but Ayer's drastic rewriting of Woods' script fleshes out these themes as an examination of machismo to go along with the beefcake story. Adding more muscle to the film is Ayer's handsome direction that strongly echoes Walter Hill and Sam Peckinpah in terms of rough-tough violence, which keeps the film feel like a strong sense of realism even as the deaths become increasingly graphic and macabre. With a frantic eye from cinematographer Bruce McCleery displaying the raw gritty look; and a mean, equally moody score by David Sardy, the film looks and feels so modern it *almost* makes you forget you're watching a Schwarzenegger film – because as few as the action sequences come, Ayer delivers on the thrills and doesn't relent on them once they start. This is the most violent Schwarzenegger film I've ever seen. I'm not talking about the body count - the extremely graphic and methodical ways the team members get offed take center stage in the violent department - even involving some completely innocent blood. Trust me when I say that this is not a film to bring your kids into - some of the gory content reach "Saw" levels. The film also has the most gruesome and horrific end to any car chase I've seen.
"Sabotage" ends up slightly weaker than "End of Watch" due to some plot issues and some really hackneyed writing, and not because of Arnold Schwarzenegger, who I honestly think is a strength for the movie: in a subtle, subdued performance, he nails the role for the most part – he looks like a guy who's been through hell and seen it all, and has more or less succumbed to the dreary lifestyle accustomed with his job. A lot of people are quick to write off his acting due to his thick, iconic Austrian accent and inability to act in something serious.
Arnie proves that he can act well if he wanted to, providing that audiences are willing to see that. Not an easy task when the heavy accent proves hard to take him seriously, but pleasantly, gone are the gung-ho self-awareness and ridiculous one-liners; here he becomes a ruthless, desperate character that creates unease rather than pleasing the crowd. For him, this could be the start for more challenging, dramatic roles - accent be damned. It could be the perfect coda to Arnold's action career, like an Austrian cowboy riding off into the sunset - providing that he doesn't do any more franchise or action work later.
- Mar 25, 2014