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Saturday, March 20, 2010

"Repo Men" would be a better film if it picked one genre and fully committed to it.

Repo Men
review by Brent Sweeting

2 1/2 out of 4 stars

You have been waiting for an organ transplant that you may never get. Time is running out, but there is another option. You can buy a new mechanical organ from "The Union". So what if it costs $650,000.00? How do you put a price on longer life? After all, you owe it your family. You owe it to yourself... except there is a catch. If you default on your payments for more than 90 days, the "Repo Men" will hunt you down, cut you open, and take the organ back. This is the premise of "Repo Men". A somewhat schizophrenic movie that can't quite decide if it's a mindless blood and guts action film, a thematic look at corporate ethics and greed, or a Hitchcock style psychological "twist" movie. Like anything pulled in too many directions at once, "Repo Men" never gets the chance to fully develop any of these aspects to their potential, and the overall film suffers as a result.

Set many years in the future and
based on a novel by Eric Garcia (who also wrote "Matchstick Men"), "Repo Men" stars Jude Law and Forest Whitaker as a near sociopathic team paid to repossess the mechanical organs of people who default on their bill. They are part of The Union, a company using high pressure sales to commit people to purchasing organs at prices they can't possibly afford, and then essentially slaughtering them to get the organs back when they default. Whitaker is perfectly cast as Jake. A previous grade-school bully that loves the thrill of the hunt, Jake believes that his enforcement of the rules is an essential part of holding society together. Jake's partner Remy (Jude Law) is equally happy with what he does for a living, but wrestles with a tough internal struggle at home due to the fact that his wife (Carice van Houten of "Valkyrie") is threatening to leave him unless he gives up his murderous career and transfers to sales. While out on one last job, Remy is injured to the point where he can no longer be just an employee of The Union, he must also become a client. With one of the Union's organs inside himself, Remy no longer sees things as clearly as he once did.

Everything is in place for what could be a great character driven story about one man's attempt to reconcile who he has been and the effect it has had on others. Without ever getting preachy there is plenty of social commentary here, as well as obvious echoes of the recent mortgage and foreclosure scandals. Liev Schreiber is spot-on as the self-centered, money-driven branch chief who is solely focused on the next sale or profit and cares little to nothing for his customers or employees. Law fully embodies both the pre- and post-surgery aspects of his character and completely sells the internal transitions of his character's arc.  However, this movie isn't entirely a drama. The thing "Repo Men" succeeds best at is the action.

Like the recent "Book of Eli", the action in "Repo Men" is very well choreographed and pulls no punches. Bloody, violent, and explosive, "Repo Men" often puts the story on hold for  action scenes - more stylized than realistic - that will definitely please the testosterone camp. Where "Repo Men" falls apart is in the balance and transition between drama and action movie. Falling back too much on formula plot devices and obvious indicators of what will happen next, "Repo Men" never really brings the level of depth that a movie like "Michael Clayton" does when exploring humanity, greed, and manipulation of others. At the same time, the pacing between action scenes is inconsistent and too slow to ever let the movie become a full on rip-roaring mindless action flick. Social commentary and drama, mixed with intense action is not an impossible combination. Movies like "The Matrix" and "The Borne Identity" got the balance just right. Unfortunately "Repo Men" feels less like a cohesive whole, and more like someone took the best action scenes from "Blade" or "The Transporter" and tried to edit them into a futuristic drama like "Children of Men".

One thing "Repo Men" absolutely gets right is the visual aspect and atmosphere of the film. A nice break from all the apocalyptic movies we have seen in the last few months, "Repo Men" takes place in a future that is not so different from our own. Technology has advanced in realistic ways, and the world has moved on in a way that feels very possible. The imagery in this film is fantastic. Especially well done are a clean room scene and another scene where the life of one of the characters flashes before their eyes. The special effects are top-notch as well. In any movie, the best effects are the ones that make you completely forget that you are seeing them, and the effects team on this film has achieved just that. Because of this, even with all the problems mentioned earlier, this would still have been an adequate "B" action flick if it didn't ruin things by trying to throw in one more monkey wrench of a twist.

I won't ruin the "twist" for you, although I think a good chunk of the audience will probably see it coming. Twist movies are often the best that cinema has to offer, but if a film is going to pull the rug out from under the audience at the end, it needs to enhance the story. Both "The Sixth Sense", and "Shutter Island" make excellent use of the twist ending in a way that makes you instantly want to go back and re-watch the film with a new perspective. "One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest" has a twist ending that doesn't change your perception of what came before, but ultimately is the final nail driving home a point the movie wanted to make from the beginning. The twist ending in "Repo Men" neither adds additional layers to the earlier parts of the story nor does it further illustrate a point.  Rather, it is merely in place for the sake of shocking the audience and ends up leaving you feeling cheated.

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1 comment:

  1. i just watched this film and am in 100% agreedment with everything you said. The ending just made me wish i never saw the film there was no need to do that and maybe the idea was to make u feel that emotion of regret for law but in my opinion it gave me a negative feeling and i dnt think i will watch this movie a second time. Its definatly worth a watch but be prepared to hate this film lol.