Hard-hitting cops, slippery con-men and dystopian danger-junkies -this week’s top DVDs reviewed.
In Sabotage (Lionsgate) a close-knit group of DEA agents, led by John ‘Breacher’ Wharton (Arnold Schwarzenegger, Commando), raids a drug cartel safe house, with a view to taking a share of the spoils for themselves. They stash the loot, but before they can retrieve it, the money -$10 million in cash -disappears, and the task force fall under suspicion regardless. After a lengthy suspension, the jaded team are allowed back into active service, but the reunion is short-lived, and they find themselves getting picked off, one-by-one, with the cartel the likely culprits. With the body-count rising, a reluctant Breacher is forced to team up with no-nonsense cop Caroline Brentwood (Olivia Williams, The Ghost) to try and put a stop to the killings.
Arnie is an unavoidably cartoonish presence, but he works hard in an unfamiliar role, and the presence of actors of the calibre of Williams, Terrence Howard (Hustle & Flow) and Sam Worthington (Avatar) add credibility to the proceedings. With a TV-friendly supporting cast, including Mireille Enos (The Killing), Joe Manganiello (True Blood), Josh Holloway (Lost) and Harold Perrineau (Oz), the overcrowded Sabotage often feels like a condensed version of a TV series. Indeed, it sometimes feels like it has more in common with the likes of The Shield and Sons of Anarchy than writer/director David Ayer’s previous work, albeit without the coherent storytelling!
The final third sees the film unravel in increasingly generic fashion, but if you don’t scrutinise the weird twists too hard Sabotage is an entertaining action thriller, with an appealing whodunit subtext. Like The Last Stand before it, Sabotage is immeasurably better than post-peak, pre-politics Arnie garbage such as Eraser and The 6th Day, and sees the big man head into gritty, unchartered territory -to diverting, and often worthwhile, effect.
Set in 1962, The Two Faces of January (StudioCanal) tells the story of Chester MacFarland (Viggo Mortensen, Eastern Promises) and his glamorous younger wife Colette (Kirsten Dunst, The Virgin Suicides), who are in Athens as part of their European vacation. While sightseeing at the Acropolis they encounter Rydal (Oscar Isaac, Inside Llewyn Davis), a young, Greek-speaking American who is working as a tour guide, scamming female tourists on the side. Drawn to Colette’s beauty and impressed by Chester’s wealth, Rydal gladly accepts their invitation to dinner, but their burgeoning friendship takes a sinister turn when Chester convinces Rydal to help move the body of a seemingly unconscious man who he claims attacked him. Obsessed with Colette, Rydal engages in a dangerous battle of wits with Chester -a rivalry that is destined to end in tragedy
Based on Patricia Highsmith’s 1964 novel of the same name, The Two Faces of January is an elegant restrained thriller, albeit one that pales in comparison to Anthony Minghella’s 1999 Highsmith adaptation The Talented Mr Ripley. The central trio all impress -particularly Mortensen (as Chester starts to mentally unravel) -and screenwriter-turned-director Hossein Amini handles the seedy, slippery plot with a confident hand. It may not prove to be as memorable as previous Highsmith adaptations, such as Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train (1951) or Wim Wenders’ The American Friend (1977), but The Two Faces of January succeeds on its own terms, and is well worth checking out.
Set in a run-down dystopian version of Detroit, Brick Mansions (Warner Home Video) depicts a world where crime is rife, and the local authorities have built a containment wall around the derelict housing projects that are now ruled by gangland kingpin Tremaine Alexander (RZA from Wu-Tang Clan). Still bitter about his father’s murder at Brick Mansions, clean-cut cop Damien Collier (Paul Walker, The Fast & The Furious) accepts an assignment to go undercover and infiltrate Tremaine’s gang, and put a stop to his plans to destroy the city. Working alongside reformed ex-convict Lino (David Belle, District 13), whose girlfriend has been kidnapped by Tremaine, Damien attempts to unravel the disturbing conspiracy at the heart of the projects.
A French-Canadian remake of the 2004 French film District 13, the largely forgettable Brick Mansions is likely to be best remembered as Paul Walker’s last completed film before his untimely death in November 2013. Sadly he is overshadowed by co-star and Parkour founder David Belle, whose free-running exploits remain seriously impressive ten years on. Indeed, the stunts are the best thing about the movie, with the patchy narrative noticeably less enjoyable the second time around. Brick Mansions is a passable B-movie -if you haven’t seen the original -and a likable enough end to the likable enough Paul Walker’s career, but it ultimately feels like a rather pointless endeavour.