SABOTAGE (2014, David Ayer)
Opening on a scene of a worn-out, red-eyed, aging Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is watching an act of violence shot on video and playing on his laptop, SABOTAGE quickly states its intentions: Arnold looks like he’s about to cry, and holds his head in his hands. Then the title card comes on.
The slowly-revealed plot eventually provides a backstory for this opening scene, but the reason Ayer used it as his pre-credit sequence is clearly thematic: this is the toll that a lifetime of violence, perpetuated on screen by an action star for the last 30 years, can take. And Ayer does not shy away from violence in SABOTAGE. As horrifically gory as a FINAL DESTINATION movie, Ayer’s follow-up to END OF WATCH (co-written with Skip Woods, who wrote SWORDFISH — another strangely amoral ode to the Bad Guys) contains similar tough-guy camaraderie amongst law enforcement, but this time with more corruption. Yet it finds a way to tell its who’s-the-mole mystery with a healthy dose of graphic violence that has a punishing effect not just on the audience, but on its characters as well.
Mireille Enos is terrific as the lone female among this elite squad of DEA soldiers, but her manic drug addiction causes some scenes of beautifully-played frayed insanity. Opposite Enos is Olivia Williams, almost unrecognizable as an Atlanta homicide cop, who manages to carry every increasingly silly scene with terrific realism — pitted against each other, Williams and Enos turn a film about violence into a film about gender roles in macho action movies.
But in the end, this is Arnold’s movie, and it’s no accident that Ayer uses real photos of Schwarzenegger with Obama and Clinton (nice that the lead actor also happened to be the governor of the richest state in the country, so there was no need for typically photoshopped props) in an effort to tell us this is the guy — he’s been doing this for years, so don’t call it a comeback, and don’t expect the killing to stop. The more people you shoot in the head, the more of a bad guy you turn out to be. And you may have some moral qualms about it, but some people are born to do this, so enjoy it, and live out your days smoking cigars with a glock in your hand. And smile.