Writer-director Michael Davis has stripped the action movie down to its essence in a mind-blowing mash-up fueled with testosterone, adrenaline, and weapons-grade plutonium. No esoteric references in the title. No Robert McKee-mandated 10 pages at the beginning to make us fall in love with the hero. No pause for a hot sex scene. Oh, there’s a hot sex scene, but there’s no pause. Insert your own shooting joke here. There’s time for a few “Who is that chef?”-style expressions of increasingly furious amazement. But there’s no time for a detour to check in with the wise man in the forest, that former insider who knows all the secrets. This is pure action.
We get down and dirty in the first 10 seconds, as “Mr. Smith” (Clive Owen) sees a woman in labor running from a man who is trying to kill her. He knows he should probably stay out of it, but soon he is delivering the baby with one hand and shooting a lot of bad guys with the other. The umbilical cord needs to be cut? He shoots that, too. But the mother doesn’t make it, so soon Smith and the baby are on the run from some very nasty bad guys.
Davis knows how to use the camera to tell the story. There is not a wasted second or shot, which gives the movie a feeling of compactness and economy and a propulsive kinetic energy. The dialogue is spare but nicely cool and even more nicely twisted. And it helps a lot to have it delivered by top-notch actors who strike exactly the right note as they deliver flinty wisecracks while they shoot. It’s stylized enough to be fun but it is completely sincere within its own terms. There are no ironic air quotes, no sense of slumming, never a wink at the audience. Most action heroes would have a hard time holding the screen in the midst of all the action, but Owen and chief bad guy Paul Giamatti are mesmerizing. And there is enough plot to keep us involved and on the side of Smith and the baby without getting in the way of the shooting.
This is an extremely violent movie. It is not for many, even most audiences. But violent stories have been popular and even important for human beings since cavemen bragged about killing mastodons around the communal campfire. This movie falls squarely in that tradition and fans of intense action will find it one of the most exciting and satisfying movies of the year.
Parents should know that this movie features constant, graphic, intense, and extreme peril and violence, with dozens of characters shot or impaled and explicit close-ups of spurting blood and hacked-off body parts. Characters are tortured. A pregnant woman and an infant are in peril. Characters drink and smoke and use some bad language. Scenes take place in a house of prostitution and there are sexual situations, including nudity and some kinky activity played for comedy.
Families who see this movie should talk about how is the violence in this movie different from the more realistic violence in films like “Schindler’s List?” What was important to Smith and why?
Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy Robert Rodriguez’s Mexico Trilogy (El Mariachi / Desperado /Once Upon A Time In Mexico), Sin City, and Kill Bill, Volume 1.