Movie Review: Sabotage
March 27, 2014
Scorching the senses with exhilarating action, edge of your seat intrigue and some incredibly riveting plot twists and turns, SABOTAGE is an action powerhouse that thrills not only with explosions, drug lords and covert operations, but immerses the audience in the lives of a dynamic ensemble of personalities and the psychological drama of the players. Who can you trust? Who do you trust? Treachery, blood shed and blood lust run amok!
What really stands out and sets SABOTAGE apart from being just another action movie or "just another Arnold Schwarzenegger movie" is that instead of being an "Arnold movie", this is a movie that is truly an ensemble of which Schwarzenegger just happens to be a member with each primary cast member and character integral to the story as a whole. This is not reliant on just Schwarzenegger. Wonderful transition for him at this stage of his career.
John "Breacher" Wharton is a legend in law enforcement and the DEA. He is also a very damaged and very complicated man. Something tragic in his past has affected him deeply and now affects his perception and manner of attack and it's something so heinous and the change in him so severe that even his team are concerned. Head of an elite task force comprised of some of the most violent, take no prisoners, undercover operatives to ever breach the door of a drug cartel operative, Breacher and his crew are the best in the biz. But they are also the most damaged. Each has suffered terrible personal losses, seen horrific sites that can never be unseen, faced the demons most only hear about in the news and even then it's a sanitized version. All are loners with only each other as companions in life. Misfits, angry, damaged psyches, no boundaries, the end justifies the means; each has no one outside of the task force. They are each other's family. Each has nothing to lose.
With the opening frame of film we are pulled into an explosive drug bust. Breacher and his team, in full SWAT regalia and armed to the hilt, are racing to the mansion of a local drug kingpin. Deep in the heart of Georgia, the area is one of the most prolific drug transport regions in the country. Following the path of the Underground Railroad, Mexican cartels distribute their product up and down the east coast. This is their lifeline and Breacher wants to shut it down.
With no holds barred, Breacher and team raid the mansion, and with Intel from Lizzy, his team member on the inside, not only takes out every person in the place, but finds a stash of over $200 million in a bunker-lie underground fortress. But wait a minute? Breacher's not responding to his superiors who are frantically radioing him. Why? The frenzy? The firefight? No. Breacher and team are stealing some of the money for themselves. And pretty clever theft, too. They drop wads of cash down the toilet drain into the main underground sewer pipe where they can retrieve it later. And then they blow up the bunker and the rest of the cast.
This drug lord and company are dead and one arm of the cartel is crippled. But the Feds didn't get their money. And as Breacher soon finds out, the team doesn't get their stash either as on heading down into the sewer, they find their money is gone. A set-up. But by whom? That was $10 million dropped down the drain. You don't just pick it up floating down the stream.
An investigation by Internal Affairs shuts down the team. Breacher is given a job pushing paper. The rest of the team juts stagnates by drinking, partying and behaving like the deviants they are. After six months with no evidence and no evidence of malfeasance by Breacher's crew, and apparently some calls from someone high in government, the investigation closes and the team is reassembled. But something is still amiss as members of the team start dropping like flies with each suffering a death more horrific than the last and with each bearing the trademarks of notorious cartel hitmen.
As dead bodies start appearing and all manners of death as the causes (train hitting an RV in which one of the team lives, a dead body nailed to the ceiling with entrails hanging like a chandelier), local homicide detective Caroline Brentwood is called upon to handle the case. Out-manned and out-gunned, Brentwood is undeterred in her investigation and keeps pushing no matter what she is told about possible suspects and the cartels. Earning Breacher's ultimate respect, the two start working together to find the man, or men, responsible for killing his team.
But as past secrets collide with the present, the whole thing blows and no one is safe from the effects of SABOTAGE.
Arnold Schwarzenegger has accepted his "elder statesman" role and fills the bill nicely as Breacher. Still strong on action and looking good, with this character he has embraced the age lines with a weathered comfort and serves as a paternal, wisdom dispensing guide to young hotheads. Weathered wisdom of the world. This is a wonderfully written character that Arnold handles easily and is a welcome addition to his resume. And then toss Olivia Williams in the mix as Caroline Brentwood! Talk about heat! Best female pairing ever with Schwarzenegger!
And speaking of Williams, going beyond her chemistry with Schwarzenegger, she just nails Brentwood. She finds that hard, no nonsense edge but laces it with weakness at the inhumanity of some of the torturous heinous acts that go one in the world. Williams gives Brentwood the edge of knowing when to flinch or gag at horror, making her the human element in the mix of hard core. But she and Arnold are dynamite together. Toe-to-toe. And great choreographing of their movement when entering unknown spaces.
The diversity of the characters within Breacher's team is stellar with each character developed - and then performed - so as any of them could be sabotaging their collective careers and/or murdering everyone. The one loose cannon that sticks out from the very beginning is the character of Lizzy. From the moment she doesn't answer the radio call from Breacher in her earpiece while in bed with the cartel agent and Breacher dismisses her non-response as "she knows what she's doing", red flags go up that are brighter than her red hair and lipstick. You know she's gonna play into something bad as the film progresses. As Lizzy, Mireille Enos is the embodiment of bad ass. Kudos to hair and make-up because as Lizzy, she looks untrustworthy, screwed-up and plays like a prostitute. Enos does, however, need to work on her large arm weapons handling though if she continues with action films like SABOTAGE. While all the guys were handling armament like pros even with basic carry, Enos always had the big guns kind of lagging in her hand. In speaking with the technical consultants, Mark Schlegal and Jamie Fitzsimons, although they would have preferred to just arm Enos with a pistol because of her diminutive frame and the shear weight of the armaments, they compromised with the filmmakers and had her handling an M40, which was still outsized for her. Stuck out like a sore thumb.
Sam Worthington is mind-blowing. Completely unrecognizable as Monster, once you get past the shock of his appearance and realization that it's Worthington, you see the complexity and depth he brings to the role. A guy with a conscience. A basically decent guy as opposed to some of the others. You actually feel sorry for him being married to Lizzy. Monster deserves better. Wonderful performance by Worthington.
Joe Manganiello is outstanding, breathing a ferocity all his own into Grinder and then upending the audience with a sincerity and heartbreaking confessory turn in scenes with Olivia Williams' Brentwood. Manganiello has the brawn, the brains and the heart that makes Grinder a three dimensional character.
Josh Holloway and Max Martini each put their own individual emotional stamp on the characters of Neck and Pyro. Gotta give props to the casting folks as they really found a blend of guys that while cohesive, by their very natures add different emotional beats that create friction and fuel the mystery of who's "sabotaging" the group.
An interesting character and casting choice is Terrence Howard's Sugar. Howard keeps us on the edge. A character of few words, Howard's non-verbal nuance keep us guessing as to what side of the fence he's on. As Brentwood's law enforcement partner, Jackson, Harold Perrineau lightens the mood with wisecracks and one-liners, playing well off Williams and off specific situations and events.
As a collective group, I can't say enough about their physicality and tactical military precision. With everyone going shoulder-to-shoulder through extensive SWAT training as well as learning DEA tactics and techniques, the authenticity is meticulous. Beyond two months of group training (in which Schwarzenegger also participated daily), Manganiello went above and beyond and did ride-alongs with LAPD in South Central LA as well as adding MMA training to his skill set.
Written by David Ayer and Skip Woods and directed by Ayer, SABOTAGE is a well structured story with the film as a whole well constructed. The concept of crossing the line for personal revenge is a fascinating one that never gets old. The exploration into the emotional darkness of the human psyche is compelling. Ayer hits us over the head right out of the box, grabbing our full sensory attention with an onslaught of story, character introductions and action. The opening gunfight in the mansion is exquisitely done. Great little tricks like toilet removal and observational humor about toilet paper set a tone for the men of Breacher's DEA unit. Those little details are very defining without wasting time on backstory or exposition.
Where we have some holes, however, are with the whole investigation/suspension and a missing $10 million. No one ever answers the question of how the Feds knew $10 million was missing when the money was blown up. That still nags at me. And there's a loose cannon employee in IA who we see briefly, but then he disappears.
Great little hints and details scattered throughout the film, particularly with knives; rope down the sewer is cut, Breacher carries a knife and uses it once, but so does Grinder and then the Coroner is using a knife to cut sleeves to pull back gang tattoos on a corpse.
No stranger to action lensing, and particularly second unit, cinematographer Bruce McCleery dazzles with lensing and lighting, skewing and dutching camera angles and then using light and saturation/desaturation of color for emotional tone and tacit metaphor. A complimentary blend of traditional and experiential first person lensing, the experience is vivid, alive, in your face. Some really beautiful images come in Breacher's home with an inky blue-black night as a backdrop cast through sliding glass doors and contrasted with a glaring sickly yellow and green on a laptop as Breacher watches videos from his past. Shadows play heavily throughout, particularly in climactic scenes in Mexico involving a confrontation with the police and cartel agents. Fantastic imagery on the whole.
Superb is the lensing of blood-letting in SABOTAGE! Awesome shots of blood pumping up from bullet holes like a little fountain. And nice to see gradation in the color of blood! There are color differences from body location and between people. Again, nice attention to small but significant details.
Dody Dorn's editing is well paced, allowing for moments within which to breathe after edge of your seat gun battles.
And I gotta say it again - way cool with a body nailed to the ceiling.
SABOTAGE. Unrelenting. Unapologetic. Unstoppable.
Directed by David Ayer
Written by David Ayer and Skip Woods
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Joe Manganiello, Josh Holloway, Terrence Howard, Sam Worthington, Olivia Williams, Mireille Enos, Harold Perrineau, Max Martini