Film Review – Sabotage
There must be a certain kind of freedom involved with embracing offensive content like it’s a sandbox to be played in. Some movies seem to firmly place themselves in the realm of controversy and depravity without even trying. Michael Bay’s movies effortless walk in the mire of everything offensive from racial stereotyping to misogyny to moral nihilism. Director David Ayer’s (End of Watch, Street Kings) latest film Sabotage, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Olivia Williams, pole dances with confidence its way into the lap of depravity, and shows no signs of looking around to see who’s watching.
It starts with a full on bang. We open with Breacher (Schwarzenegger) watching a video of a woman being tortured to death. Through the intense music and quick editing between the horror in the home video, and Breacher’s face, we know this is someone important to him. The movie then cuts to the title of the film with a person’s blood drenched hands being washed in a basin fit inside the lettering. Crunchy guitars indicate this is serious, and with the brutality so brazenly on display in the opening minutes it’s all a telltale sign that we’re heading into a Schwarzenegger film that’s not quite what we’ve come to expect, especially in the wake of his political retirement and rekindling of a movie career.
Unfortunately, Ayer’s movie is driven by a head first pacing coupled with a script void of connectivity and foreshadowing to the point of a nonsensical delivery of scenes. It’s because of this, the film doesn’t properly develop a plot until well into the second act. What story there is is meshed in between bullet holes that tear flesh asunder and blood that gushes about like a grindhouse horror film. We follow a special team of DEA agents that’s more like S.W.A.T. than the undercover agents there billed to us as. The team is supposed to be tight nit, close like family. They even refer to each other as family. That’s supposed to make an impact on us as the story progresses from a job involved with robbing a Mexican cartel to an investigation concerning the money’s mysterious disappearance once the job is pulled off. Of course Breacher and company are accused of stealing the money, but no one’s talking, and before long they’re all reinstated and the investigation is dropped.
The first act is pure misogynistic indulgence. Breacher’s team, consisting of one woman, who in a standard male written story tries to be more masculine than the men, is as horrendously a clichéd group of frat boys with tattoos and guns as you can expect. Indulgent to the point of nauseam, as the teams barracks consists of nude female pictures hung on walls, an Xbox with a sports video game in play, and one teammate giving another a tattoo. Drinking is heavy and our sole female, Lizzy Murray (Mireille Enos), is shouting about how she’ll out do everyone in every way. Luckily this all changes when one of the team turns up dead in what looks to be a cartel hit.
With little knowledge of where the story is going or why, we are introduced to detective Caroline (Olivia Williams), who has the job of investigating the team member’s death. Scenes bump into each other, and things happen without a given reason, but with as much indulgent viscera taking place around the flimsy execution of the story, it really doesn’t seem to matter. In a strange twist of enjoyment, everything that becomes a pure dive into the exploits of excess and wanton carnage is amplified by the first act’s “bro-down”, as Caroline even refers to it. And that’s where things get surprisingly interesting. There’s a self-awareness involved that goes beyond the meta references characters make about their own states of existence.
Underneath the surface of hyperbolic misogyny, casual racism, blatant homophobia, and sadistic violence is an almost post-modern recognition of the film’s star. Schwarzenegger is front and center reaping the consequences of his past aggressions as both Breacher, and himself. Mourning a family gone feels all too close to the reality of Schwarzenegger post-scandal. Matters only further align themselves when pictures of Schwarzenegger’s entire life, including ones from his time as governor of California, are displayed to both Caroline and the audience as a back-story for Breacher. Here’s a movie that outside of that moment never cares about any of the character’s pasts, including Breacher’s. As characters start killing each other off and an internal war breaks out, there’s a weight on Breacher’s shoulders that ends up taking him into a strange cowboy hat in a bar in Juarez, Mexico. After the camera lingers on the effects of a bullet hole in a person’s body, there’s a strange look that comes over Breacher/Schwarzenegger face as he basically stares right at the camera; an acknowledgement to the audience.
There might be little in the way of logical connections and too much of the hypertensive presentation of men at play and women trying to keep up, but there’s also this strange layer of awareness that carries itself even to the point of an unhinged Lizzy, whose portrayal by Enos is so giddy with indulgence that’s it’s impossible not to enjoy it. While this might not be a masterpiece of action filmmaking, it does provide solid action sequence that are filmed with a steady camera, and not edited into fragments of fragmented seconds beyond visual recognition. I went in hoping for Raw Deal but with the cartels in place of the mafia, and instead got something so vilely unexpected and deranged to the point of fun that I can see myself watching this many times over.