I’ve been hyping Sabotage since I first heard about it. I’m a huge Arnold Schwarzenegger fan and a huge David Ayers (End of Watch) fan so the two together sounds like sweet, sweet cop action bliss. Ayers is great and melding action and drama while developing actual characters and Schwarzenegger is great at… well… being in action movies. Things looked pretty good.
It was easy to get excited to because the supporting cast was really solid and the trailers actually advertised the film in the right way. Heading in I was certain I was going to have a good time at this movie. You know what? I did.
Director: David Ayers
Release Date: March 28, 2014
Sabotage is easily Schwarzenegger’s best film since returning to the big screen more prominently in the past few years. Not that that is an incredibly high bar to get over, but he’s had some fun bits of action here and there. Sabotage is a bit more of a legitimate movie, though its also Ayers’s most action heavy film. Somewhere between Arnold’s recent fare of dumb action and Ayers’s history of dark, smart cop dramas we find Sabotage and its a very solid middle ground to be standing on. A middle ground that is covered in blood.
If you want an idea of just how violent and disturbing Sabotage gets then consider the fact that the film opens with a hard to watch torture sequence. We find John ‘Breacher’ Wharton (Schwarzenegger) watching this torture for reasons unknown and the quickly cut to him leading his elite DEA team into a major drug bust in which they attempt to steal about $10 million under the nose of their superiors. The problem is when they go to get their money it’s all gone and the DEA has somehow found out about the theft. Then team members start dying in really bloody and terrible ways. Is it the cartel or one of their own? With the help of cop Caroline (Olivia Williams) Arnold sets out to find out.
The movie is insanely visceral, with copious amounts of blood flying everywhere and Ayers’s gritty, in your face direction basically shoving as much blood and uncomfortable violence at you as possible. If that kind of stuff disturbs you then you will not like this movie because it pulls no punches. As the story unfolds it just gets more and more brutal until we’re pretty much questioning every person as a suspect and a bad guy, even Arnold, which is a rare change of pace for the actor. That’s probably one of the film’s strongest points: the fact that you are kept guessing the entire time.
This excessive doesn’t always play out well, however. Sometimes things get too gory and take the drama out of the scene. While the movie is clearly supposed to be an action flick its dramatic pull is what makes it work and often the over-the-top action sequences can actually slow it down. They’re great, bloody scenes, but they seem at odds when the film gets more serious.
Ayers’s screenplay also suffers from the same issue. Known for his fantastic and natural dialog that pulls even less punches than his directing this one gets a bit away from him. The machismo of the unit is so rough and abrasive that it starts feeling forced as the guys (and one gal) banter about sex and dicks and everything else. For the most part it works, but every so often its just awkward. It also doesn’t help that Schwarzenegger’s strong suit isn’t really natural dialog so when the likes of Sam Worthington and Joe Manganiello are offering up some fun banter and Arnold steps in awkwardly it can derail it.
That isn’t to say that Arnold is terrible in the film, he’s actually not. This might be one of his more challenging roles (again, not that high a bar) and he actually handles it really well. While his emotional depth might not be the greatest it actually plays well into this character and thanks to the fact that the rest of the cast around him is so stellar it’s all works out. That’s especially true for Mireille Enos, who plays the only woman on the squad. Her character is easily the deepest and most complex and she pulls off the machismo that a woman in a band of men has to have perfectly.
Sabotage definitely has its flaws, not the least of which is that the cranked up violence is going to turn a lot of people off, but it’s also a seriously dark kind of Western that does a good job of overcoming expectations. There’s a strange game of tug of war going on between Ayers’s traditional dramatic leanings and the film’s violent bent towards action and while it may not always work, it’s definitely interesting.