The Purge Anarchy: America remains a prosperous and healthy nation thanks to the continuation of The Purge – a 12-hour window where, once a year, all crime is legal. Instead of a single home invasion this is spread over a metropolitan ‘downtown’ area over several families & plots, which come together in order to form a ‘multi-racial, rich-and-poor misfit bunch fighting against the odds’ scenario – luckily for the gang there’s a gruff anti-hero among them. This leaves the film creeping into more generic survival thriller territory; however what’s lost in immediate plot is compensated for with a more interesting take on the purge itself, seeing the bigger picture with military contractors, organised protection, organised crime, class wars, and flat-out buying poor people to butcher all coming into play here. Retaining its real-world and ‘realistic’ roots really help generate and maintain a sustained sense of threat, and the world is unquestionably dystopian and off-kilter enough to feel creepy throughout – other than the central characters everyone else feels like a dark caricature. Ultimately, The Purge movies work best if you buy into the conceit; for me the concept is brilliant and Anarchy is more ambitious and interesting than the previous purge, but in doing so becomes a little bit more familiar.
Homefront: when an undercover narc is re-located his past eventually comes back to bite him, and his daughter. I was really looking forward to this: Statham playing Statham in an action film, James Franco as the baddie, and Wynona Rider… things were looking up; then I saw this phrase in the credits “written and produced by Stallone” and my heart just sank. We know Statham’s a badass (he’s Jason Statham), we know Franco is the baddie, we know the cop is bent, we know the revenge story… don’t spend over an hour backgrounding these basic characters, and genre plot. And don’t sell it as a non-stop action-fest when it’s only really the finale that’s action-heavy. And don’t cast a young girl with an old-lady’s face! (She was like ‘Chloe from Vine’). And don’t be so loose with your accent, Statham. While this isn’t a completely terrible film it just feels like nobody’s really trying: not the writers, not the director, not even the actors… everyone involved is better than this. Distressingly average.
End of Watch: two of LAPD’s finest end up with a bounty on their heads after accidentally disrupting the activities of a brutal cartel. From the opening car chase this feels very realistic, shot primarily on dashboard / surveillance / handheld cameras etc. This style not only lends itself to authenticity – glamour is played down throughout – but heightens the drama and urgency of action sequences. Both leads (Gyllenhaal and Peña) are superb, the naturalistic script makes them genuinely feel like friends, and their performances make you believe that they are regular guys – the fire scene in particular shows us that they are real heroes. What sets this aside from most cop films is that the antagonists are painted as being so ruthless and violent that there’s a genuine sense of danger that simmers throughout the film, hitting boiling point at the climax. My only major issue is that because the overall style is ‘handheld’/’genuine’ footage, characters in the middle of drive-by shootings / full-blown firefights / intimate moments are always carrying a camera/phone etc; even when there’s plenty shots in the film that aren’t handheld, so it seems a bit stupid. Also, if the penultimate scene had been cut, the ending would have also been so much more powerful. Niggles aside, End of Watch is a stunning cop film, with a strong ‘buddy’ vibe, real threat and two great performances at its heart. This is easily the best cop film in years, and arguably ever.
The Grey (AKA Wolf Punch): a suicidal wolf-sniper must lead a group of plane crash survivors back to safety when they ditch near a wolf den in Alaska. The biggest shock to me was Neeson‘s star appeal; it was the busiest screening I’ve seen in a long time – and the poster for this is just a close-up of his coupon. While there’s no other A-list actors, they’ve all been around the block and are a solid bunch of hands. The film has surprisingly artistic sensibilities; in particular the opening character building with voiceover, and overall focus / investment on the group, their dynamics, (& latterly the scenery) – instead of fighting wolves every 20 seconds. The plane crash is overwhelming, there’s couple of solid jumps, the CGI wolves look great, the gore is pretty visual, and overall the continuous threat of attack keeps you guessing. The only real downside is that there’s not a whole lot of wolf-punching to be had, and when it happens the frenetic action cam makes a mess of it all. As for the final scene, I still can’t tell if it is the bravest, dumbest, or most disappointing in memory – definitely a bold move. Neeson gets his token action line ‘let’s sharpen a big stick and ram it up this wolf’s ass’… as well a several emotional runs through the poem below, oh, and Taglet looks identical to Half Life’s Dr Freeman. The Grey isn’t the action-packed wolf-punching cheese-fest that you walk in expecting; instead it’s a tense, character driven well-made survival thriller; this will be a nice surprise to some, but a disappointment to others.
Once more into the fray.
Into the last good fight I’ll ever know.
Live or die on this day.
Live or die on this day.