Sabotage Directed by: David Ayer Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Olivia Williams, Mireille Enos, Sam Worthington, Joe Manganiello Running Time: 1 hr 49 mins Rating: R Release Date: March 28, 2014
PLOT: After they rob a drug cartel, members of a DEA task force (led by Schwarzenegger) begin to drop one-by-one.
WHO'S IT FOR? Schwarzenegger geeks, or anyone who expects more than just spectacle from the former governor.
In Sabotage, Arnold Schwarzengger continues to expand his 2.0 image as he is reincarnated in the face of his first-name basis nostalgia. Aligning himself with director David Ayer's embrace of real-life gruesomeness, where no image of blood or guts is spared in the recognizing of occupational hazard brutality, Schwarzengger expresses the corrosive qualities of testosterone, and the destructive paths that can come from living a life that feeds on primal elements. His character, Breacher, leads a team of DEA agents who treat testosterone like a steroid, and it just makes them more rowdy and destructive. In a story inspired by Agatha Christie's "Ten Little Indians" ("Ten" was a tentative title for this film), Schwarzengger shepherds a group of government killers who have their own problems when fighting the drug war, and now are beginning to experience its mental effects.
Sabotage harnesses the archetypal qualities of Schwarzenegger. His acting remains unchanged, his country of birth, his words garbled. What Sabotage does so distinctly is that it heavily dims his lightness, as his machismo is further challenged by a post-Iraq world where his employees only mention Ronald Reagan as a joke (there's a poster of "Ronbo" in the DEA group's hangout spot). Though his previous movies like Escape Plan or even his Expendables appearances have shown what works pornographically when Schwarzengger commits violence, Sabotage often underlines his gun wielding with a gut feeling that's much more complicated. He carries a big loud gun in some scenes, but it's not the main spectacle of this movie. When he kills someone, it is with a ruthlessness that is far distant from the immediate ease of watching bad guys fall at his hand. While his total body count in action movies must rank at least a thousand by now, the violence Schwarzenegger commits in Sabotage is too stark to be taken as escapism. Like Russell Crowe's version of Noah, or Nicolas Cage's upcoming performance in Joe, Schwarzengger creates a flesh-and-blood version of a man, with tremendous fallacies and all.
Schwarzenegger, appearing in his third non-cameo movie role since returning to acting, plays a character who might be the most savage of all his group. The members on his team are penchant for behavior that involves drinking, fighting, and f**king, but Breacher is the one who revisits the tape of his wife's horrific torture on repeat occasions, a contemplative cigar in his mouth. Sabotage might be a Schwarzenegger vehicle, but it works because it places him as a teacher to a motley crew of which he must share many grunts with. Goofy nicknames and hairstyles may help differentiate these nut bars from each other, but their collective personality is just a peg above mush. The most distinct member from this group is certainly Mirelle Enos' Lizzie, a woman whose intensity has more visible side effects. And while other members of the crew are played by Joe Maganiello, Sam Worthington and Terrence Howard, these guys don't have much personality outside of their goofy name and the mode of transportation they choose to show their toughness.
Storytelling is a facet, like his brutality, that Ayer uses to keep his audience on their toes. It makes for an experience with multiple strands, as we expect the film to slowly make sense. For one, this tale of a killer mole does not have a straightforward ease, or an easy explanation. With members of the group slowly being brutally off'd, there's an investigation (led by Olivia Williams' vulgar Caroline) that takes the story in a different direction. There are other strands as well. Even then, it sometimes feels like a distraction to the main question that is slowly put in place by this film.
One of the Sabotage's more curious facets concerns its filmmaking, which challenges expectations of jaw-dropping reveals; Ayer's cuts toy with the audience. In one instance, two sequences are arranged so that they appear to be simultaneous, but then slow revealing of the event's geography reveals that one happened before the other. In one of its more bold instances, which could be the call of a producer tired of the film's tease for a twist itself as much as a conscious artistic direction, involves the direct spoiling of the "who's doing it?" that drives much of the film. It's certainly a risky move within the film, but also one that is not beneficial to the film's main pull itself. It gives off a vibe of rushed storytelling (Sabotage isn't slow but it ain't fast either) more than it does a specific artistic choice.
Ayer's film can be spotty on action; his procedural moments with the DEA task force are intense, with ruthless bursts of energy. But his camera coverage of his action can be too reckless for its own good. A downtown car chase and impromptu shooting gallery is emboldened by this movie's ride-or-die mentality, but the coverage of his cameras doesn't create a full picture, it's too many close-ups. Fitting to the action of the film, this particular sequence does end with shocking human tragedy, a visual that might be more vivid than any of the film's straight shooting.
It is not age that really confronts Schwarzenegger in this film, but a more vivid sense of evil. Sabotage takes the Hollywood legend to a level he has never been before. As for Ayer, his intentions are curious, but his storytelling tactics would benefit from more focus amongst the steroids.
FINAL SCORE: 6/10