Rarely has a fairly good, no-frills thriller been so soundly undone by its atrocious ending.
I won't go into details about it until the end of this post, to spare those who haven't seen this one yet, but for now I'll just say that it betrays what the hero, Bob Lee Swagger (I don't know about you, but I love the name) is all about.
We have to buy into the fact that Marky Mark Wahlberg's Swagger is a man on the run from the shadowy forces that always control our government in these types of movies in order to believe some of the more ridiculous action sequences he survives. To believe, for example, that he and a sympathetic rogue FBI agent (Michael Pena) can go to the hardware store to find all they need to make some first-class explosives, and then shoot and blast their way out of an ambush by many heavily armed soldiers at a farmhouse.
But, if you're willing to suspend this disbelief, Fuqua, up unil the end, has managed to craft the kind of old-fashioned thriller that I thought had already been wiped out by CGI.
He quickly sets up Swagger's backstory about the army mission that went awry, leading the sharpshooter to live as a mountain man ala Ted Kaczynski, albeit in a much nicer cabin. And his mission is a doozy: Get inside the mind of a would-be presidential assassin and stop him.
My only beef with this fluid setup was that, after telling us the attempt would happen in either Washington, Baltimore or Philadelphia, Fuqua feels the need to tell us - with the words - when Swagger is scoping out each city, even as we see the Capitol building, then the Inner Harbor and then a statue of Ben Franklin. Despite the fact that I might sometimes act like one, I am not an infant, and I don't particularly like being treated like one.
From here on out, it's a fairly intense manhunt that reminded me of 70s thrillers in its pacing and '80s ones in its celebration of seeing things get blowed up good. And that's something I'll always enjoy seeing. The plot for which Swagger, a creation of Washington Post film critic Stephen Hunter, becomes the fall guy is appropriately ridiculous. All I'll tell you is that this time the big bad is big oil.
We, or at least I, go along with all this because Wahlberg makes us believe in Swagger's mission to clear his name. Along the way he's abetted by Pena and also by Kate Mara, who plays the widow of his army buddy who didn't make it home. Mara is an astoundingly beautiful woman and a good actress who deserves much more than being leared at creepily by the father of her dead fiance (Ian McShane in "We Are Marshall") or being chained to the stove and tortured as she is here (off-screen, lest you might think that would be fun to watch.)
Danny Glover and Ned Beatty clearly have fun as the rather preposterous bogeymen, but it's Wahlberg's mountain-man mystique and Fuqua's welcome lack of flash that makes this a mostly satisfying thriller and sets up Swagger for at least a couple more flicks, if the box office numbers deliver.
MAJOR SPOILER WARNING: IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN THE MOVIE YET, DO NOT READ BEYOND THIS POINT.
OK, here's where I'd like to hear from anyone who has read the book on which this flick is based, "Point of Impact," because I can't believe that Hunter would have ended it by having Swagger hunt down the colonel and the senator and kill them both.
This all-too-neat Hollywood ending comes after he has already cleared his name, which is where it should have ended. Swagger, a free man with a still rather large chip on his shoulder, would have been the perfect character for a sequel or two or three.
But when they tack on the executions at the end, it shifts to becoming all about revenge, and it's a jarring change in course. I'm sure some studio hack asked for this so we wouldn't have any of those pesky loose ends to worry about, but it just didn't work for me.
Sunday, March 25, 2007
Posted by Reel Fanatic at 5:29 AM