Get your heart ripped out here ~ That Movie Blogger Fella

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Get your heart ripped out here

Repo Men
My rating:

Ah, dystopian sci-fi. Has there been a lot of 'em in the past year-or-so, or did I just start noticing them when I began reviewing movies? Going through my archives, there's been District 9, Gamer, Surrogates, and Daybreakers - and without exception, all of them have been action movies. They've all also used their sci-fi premises to make pointed jabs at societal trends and current issues, and the blend of action and social satire is often not an easy one; I noted this in my Surrogates review, but it applies to most of the movies on the above list, really.

And it definitely applies to this one.

Remy (Jude Law) and Jake (Forest Whitaker) are "repo men". They work for The Union, a corporation that manufactures and sells artificial organs that can replace any part of the human body - and when their owners can't keep up with their payments, their boss Frank (Liev Schreiber) assigns them the job of repossessing the organs, by literally cutting them out of their owners' bodies and leaving them for dead. When an accident leaves him with an artificial heart, Remy grows disillusioned with the job and can no longer perform it; moreso when his wife (Carice van Houten) leaves him and he sinks deeper into despair. He falls for a woman named Beth (Alice Braga) who is also a defaulter on several "artiforgs", and joins her as a fugitive from the system, one of the very people he once hunted. But The Union's repo men are very good at what they do - especially his best friend Jake.

It started out pretty good actually. The script is smart, the dialogue is sharp, the performances are engaging, and the near-future world is well-realised. The premise is clearly a metaphor for the U.S. subprime mortgage crisis and the public healthcare debate - although, in the latter case, it's not so much a metaphor as it is an anvil. Of course, there's nothing wrong with that per se; it's the nature of the science fiction genre to take current trends and extrapolate (or even outright exaggerate) them into a vehicle for interesting stories. And there's nothing wrong with combining that with the action movie genre. I like a little thought-provoking with my visceral thrills, and it's been done effectively before; out of the list of dystopian sci-fi films I've reviewed, District 9 is a good example.

But while it does a generally good job at exploring its premise, it's not so good at managing the audience's expectations. Which is that we're expecting an action movie, but there are long stretches of little action and uneven pacing. It's quite enjoyably gory, both in its action scenes and the parts where the repo men are doing a job, and I think the subject matter calls for just such an unflinching approach to bloody onscreen violence. (There's a bit towards the end that could perhaps be described as a "surgery sex scene", and it's pretty damn cool.) The problem is that the film feels aimless and dull in its midsection, when Remy and Beth are simply trying to survive day-to-day in the blasted, almost post-apocalyptic city slums. And again, there'd be nothing wrong with that if we weren't expecting an action movie, in which pacing is everything.

Then we got to the ending. Oh man, what an ending. That ending really throws the whole dichotomy between action movie and social satire into sharp relief. I don't want to spoil it, but... y'see, action movies depend on creating protagonists that the audience can root for. For an action scene to work, you have to care for the hero(es) and want them to survive and succeed at what they're fighting for. Not every movie has to be like this, of course; other genres can be more complex and ambiguous in their storytelling, such as thrillers and dramas and, oh yeah, satires. This movie, which combines action with sci-fi satire, has an ending that proves it got its combination all wrong. I would've given it 3-½ stars, for being a flawed but decent dystopian sci-fi action movie, if it weren't for that total shoot-itself-in-the-foot ending.

Still, 3 stars means there's a lot that I liked about it. As I mentioned, the writing is smart and sharp; there's a conversation between Remy and Frank in which Frank justifies the murderous nature of their job in a very believable way, the exact way such banal evil can come to rise in the first place. And speaking of the banality of evil, Liev Schrieber's performance is a standout as the slimy corporate exec who delivers a kindly sales spiel to customers on one hand, and delivers their death warrants to his repo men on the other. Acting is effective all around; Jude Law proves his action hero mojo, Forest Whitaker is always a charismatic presence, and Alice Braga adds a natural likability to an underwritten role.

But I'd advise against getting too attached to these characters. And I'd advise against getting too engaged in this movie - which is practically the opposite of what movies are supposed to do. 'Cos that ending... gaahh. I just want to state for the record that I don't have a problem with that kind of ending per se. It's just that an ending like that in a movie like this - or rather, that kind of satire in this kind of action movie - well, it's not gonna make for a film that will be fondly remembered.

NEXT REVIEW: Phua Chu Kang: The Movie
Expectations: looooowww


k0k s3n w4i said...

i think jude law is a really versatile actor, and he already proved his psycho killer mojo in the road to perdition to me... but i'm still wondering if i should see this film. so far, no review i've read could help me decide decisively.

when are you going to rip into PCK:The Movie? can't wait, mate. oh, i managed to ask the screenwriter of the PCK movie a couple of questions - which he was gracious enough to answer via e-mail. i'll share them when your review gets out, mmmkay?

TMBF said...

@k0k s3n w4i: It's worth watching on DVD at most.

I'm writing the PCK review right now. I'd dearly love to know what you and the screenwriter talked about.

Akanksha said...

I think This is good action film of the year 2010. Jude Law has played fabulous role in this film. I just watched this film and really enjoyed it.
Repo Men 2010