Action Junkie – Trouble Man, and the trouble with men.

Trouble Man does the opposite of Hit Man and concerns itself very little with the sexual appetites of Mr. T. The action leaves him with no time. As the plot begins, Mr. T. is hired by two men, Chalky (Paul Winfeld) and Pete (Ralph Waite), to help them find the masked gunmen knocking off the private games. Instead of playing the story as a straight mystery, the film makes an interesting turn when early on it is revealed that Chalky and Pete are running a setup. The film gets cleverer, keeping the audience in the dark as far as to what extent their deceit runs. Mr. T. is up against an opposition that is conspiring against him, and it is his proto-male nihilism that will see him through to its conclusion.

The absurdity that underlines this male idealism is more transparent given time and hindsight, bringing about questions of the male as hero in the society he is meant to entertain and mirror. What is the role of the hero in this setting? Is it like Joseph Campbell’s assertions that the hero’s place is to save the people by delivering unto them the knowledge to save themselves? If that is the case, then Trouble Man neglects that path. In the end the only person Mr. T. really saves is himself. However, part of the way through the film he does muscle a deal to ensure a family ailing and in need gets help. As I stated previously, Mr. T. is a man of his people; it is his job to watch over them. In part, this is much like aspects of Campbell’s “hero’s journey”; it does not complete the path for Mr. T. or the community he watches over but is a characteristic of the hero. What’s frightening is the placement in reality this particular hero represents, one that is in direct contrast to Campbell’s theory of a hero. Instead of a hero of the people, these are more or less heroes of the self. Doc McCoy, while caring for his wife, is ultimately prepared to do what he can to save his own neck. Carter wants revenge for the death of his brother, one of the most selfish motives of action there is.

All these motives bring us back to the question of the place of the hero at this moment in time. Is it a projection of an ideal being placed on society or a mirror of the views of what society wanted a hero to be? While questions like this reach a deeper psychological, societal level than most of us can answer, on the surface they bring to light feelings of community and the individual’s place in it. At the very least these motives provide for a compelling viewing experience that adds up to a release in sensationalism for an audience that has ever felt the odds were stacked against them in the first place. That is where these questions of a hero in society come to a head, especially when considering the Blaxploitation genre. These are heroes who, by the standards of the world they live in, are designed to fail. The system has been rigged to ensure there are no heroes.

Mr. T., in the context of his reality, represents something different than the hero of Campbell’s writings. This hero that Mr. T. embodies is one who must take the shape of what is necessary to fight against a stacked deck. Selfish motives are no longer selfish given the bigger context. This implies that if Mr. T. must be hard to save himself, then so too should the community he is a part of. Mr. T. is the example to live by; thus, he is the hero the film needs him to be. This approach is much more Nietzsche-esque than Campbell, rather embracing the concepts of both nihilism and the uber-man, both of which are in the forefront as the movie moves to the climax.

For the greater part of Trouble Man, action is limited and violence even more so. Instead of delivering the Hollywood standard of something spectacular every reel, the film builds to a boil. Once we reach the conclusion of the final act, the cards now laid on the table and the truth behind Mr. T’s deception revealed, guns are withdrawn and mayhem ensues. In the closing battle, Mr. T. lays waste to his enemies. Almost methodically he moves through gunfire and fists. And, just like another standard for any action film, death is trivial; people are like obstacles or targets for the hero to remove from the equation. The violence is accentuated with over-zealous squibs and paint-red blood. Explosions of gunshots are caught on close-up. It makes for a thrilling end, especially given the circumstances that lead Mr. T. not only to the film’s conclusion, but the hero the story molds him as, or, the one society left him with no other choice but to be.

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Benjamin Nason is a writer, film-maker and critic from the Pacific Northwest, where he lives with his cat Lulu.

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