There’s a tendency that even film reviewers fall into, which is to think that we always treat each individual film on its own merits. However sometimes it’s often not true. There can be a big problem when people go into a movie thinking it’s going to be one thing when actually it’s something else. As a result they judge it against their expectations not against the film itself.
I couldn’t help thinking about that while watching Sabotage, as many of the truly horrendous reviews the film have received are essentially bemoaning the fact they thought they were getting a ‘typical’ Arnie movie. However it’s not that, but the reviews still seem to view it through the lens of 80s Schwarzenegger.
That’s not to say it’s a great movie as it has a lot of issues, but it’s far better than many would lead you to believe, as long as you look at it as the dark dramatic thriller it’s supposed to be, rather than the mindless action a lot of people seem to have decided it ought to be.
Arnie plays Breacher, the leader of a crack squad of hardened DEA agents who have a reputation for taking down the worst of the worst in the war on drugs. However they’ve got something extra in mind with one bust, where they plan to steal $10 million from a drug cartel. However when they go to the spot the cash is meant to be, it’s gone.
Instead of being rich the team find themselves under investigation, as well as torn apart internally by suspicions that one of them has taken the money all for themselves. If that weren’t enough, someone starts picking off members of the team one-by-one. But who’s behind it, and does it have anything to do with the kidnapping and murder of Breacher’s family several years before?
It does sound a bit like the plot of a generic Arnie movie, but this is directed by David Ayer, writer of Training Day and director of End Of Watch. In many respects it has more in common with them than Commando. Ayer is fascinated by the idea that the authorities and the criminals are two sides of the same coin, and that after years dealing with the scum of the earth, it’s more a case of degrees of badness between the cops and the robbers.
What that means here is that this is a film that is deliberately trying to break down and alter the Arnie image. Here he is far from the unabashed hero we’re used to. There are times when he’s pretty scummy, and if you watch the deleted scenes and alternate endings, you’ll realise quite how much they originally wanted to subvert what people expect from an Arnie movie, showing the actual grisly and unpleasant repercussions for the type of characters he’s been playing for 30 years. Indeed if they’d gone with that other conclusion, which is dramatically different to what we get, it would have shocked many. That’s probably why they pulled back, as it would have been a truly disturbing way to conclude the story.
Many have complained about the level of violence in the movie, but that’s almost the point here – that shooting someone in the head is a horrible, gory act that ought to pack some punch, whereas in so many films we’re supposed to simply cheer the snuffing out of dozens of human lives.
That’s not to say it’s perfect, and one of the main issues is that it feels like this was originally a dark drama that’s been jazzed up with a few over the top but very efficiently handled action scenes to make it more mainstream, but it never quite finds the balance. There are also a few plotting issues, with several things that don’t make a huge amount of sense or aren’t very convincing, and the ending that they eventually went for doesn’t quite fit with what’s gone before. It would also have helped if they’d given the excellent supporting cast – including Sam Worthington, Mireille Enos, Terrence Howard, Joe Manganiello and Josh Holloway – more to do.
But it’s not that bad though, despite what many of the reviews have said. In fact it’s got quite a lot of interesting ideas, and while Arnie is still far from a great actor, he’s given one of his most complex and interesting characters here. It’s almost like Arnie is trying to do what Clint Eastwood did with Unforgiven, playing the older version of the type of person he made his career out of and showing that the reality is far less heroic and more soul destroying than the likes of Commando and Eraser might have suggested. Unfortunately though it’s far from the triumph Unforgiven was, but it’s still a somewhat interesting movie.
It certainly won’t go down as a classic and has some major problems, but it’s not half as bad as some of the vitriolic reviews have suggested.
Overall Verdict: Arnie tries to subvert his image to come dark places, but due to thematic and story issues it doesn’t quite work – but it’s far from the disaster some have suggested.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac