Director: Kim Ji-Woon
Cast: Arnold Schwarznegger, Jaimie Alexander, Eduardo Noriega, Luis Guzman, Forest Whittaker, Peter Stormare and Johnny Knoxville
Plot: Sheriff Ray Owens (Arnie) is a laidback, ageing Sheriff, who likes the calm of his isolated town, Sommerton. However, when escaped convict, Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega), is headed for the Mexican border via Sommerton, then Owens becomes the Last Stand.
In my eyes, there is a very obvious goal behind this movie: to try and make Arnold Schwarznegger’s career mirror Clint Eastwood’s. Sure, their acting abilities are worlds apart, but while Arnie was the action hero of the 80s and 90s, Clint is easily the star of the 70s, proven by any post-John Wayne Western and the fantastic Dirty Harry franchise. However, Kim Ji-Woon has noted that Arnie cannot keep up this tough guy image (someone please tell Stallone that as well!), and is attempting to portray Arnie as the ageing hero, like some later Clint movies. This could even be proven by the comparison between the weaponised school bus in this film and Eastwood’s bus finale in ‘The Gaunlet’ (if any reader knows if this was intentional from the director, please let me know – it was on my mind in the cinema).
Not that Arnie plays a Gran Torino figure here. It is still good old Arnie with quotable lines and awesome fights, but there is an edge to it. He is slower and most of his fight scenes suggest that he is counting on taking out the bad guy in the first punch, rather than thinking of a follow-up manoeuvre (which is turned against him in the final showdown). Kim Ji-Woon handles Arnold perfectly, understanding the limitations of both his acting and age, adjusting the script to deal with both problems. Ray Owens is a good mix of the person we can relate to (laid-back, content with his creature comforts), and the guy we dream of being (someone with the aforementioned weaponised school bus).
I reckon most of the film’s criticism will come from the slow start: the true action starts in the third act and relentlessly carries on to the end of the film, but nonetheless, few fight scenes are shown before this. Personally, I like the slow start and wished that some points of the film were slowed down even more. There was a sense that Kim Ji-Woon kept becoming aware that he was handling an Arnie film and kept ramping up the action with cuts to the FBI chasing down Cortez. This I had a problem with.
It was not needed. As much as I liked Forest Whittaker’s character, he wasn’t important to the film. I would have been happier with an emptier character, merely a figure to represent the FBI. Every time Whittaker was onscreen, I kept wishing the film would hurry back to sleepy Sommerton. The same goes for the villain: he just needed to be memorable enough for the audience to respect him. The whole Agent Richards as a hostage plotline could have been dropped completely.
Why get rid of the FBI shootouts? I found myself caring for the Sommerton villagers so much more. This film shines with the unknown faces rather than the famous actors: I loved the background storylines of Jerry (Zach Gilroy), Sarah (Jaimie Alexander) and Frank (Rodrigo Santoro), each bringing great characters to the film. I felt that the director and writers wanted to focus on these guys, but were constantly scared that their audience (mainly people there to watch Arnie) wouldn’t appreciate it and just want to see shooting.
Not that the film had a contingency plan. It could have fallen back on the film’s comedy. These village folk are not ready for the fighting that takes place in the film (even Arnie, to an extent), and it is funny to watch them: they fire too many bullets into each enemy, run out of cover to help their mates: they are just awful at the action, but it’s fun to watch.
Speaking of comedy, my fears for this film were Luis Guzman and Johnny Knoxville. I was worried that their goofball comedy would bring the film down, but thankfully the writers handled them well. Their jokes were kept to a minimum (usually just a couple of quotes to spice up a conversation), and it worked well. In fact, even Arnie was kept to a reasonable minimum, allowing the smaller characters to have their moment to shine.
In general, this film hits all of the right buttons for a reasonable action thriller: great characters, the right measure of comedy and Arnie back on form, especially in the final twenty minutes. I felt it would have been better if it was slowed down, but I understand the worries of the production team. Worth a watch, maybe even a DVD when it comes out.
Final verdict: Great action: check! Great characters: check! Arnie jumping off a roof, while shooting someone in the head at the same time: check! He’s back!