Take ONLY A Sip: whenever you see a crucifix or Saint’s icon.
Take a Drink: whenever a nameless goon gets impaled.
Take a Drink: whenever a scorpion-embossed bullet appears.
Take a Drink: for offscreen violence.
Do a Shot: when Augustin wetsuits up.
Finish Your Drink: when you’ve played this level of Assassin’s Creed before.
By: Sarah Shachat (Four Beers) –
A man sitting in a church waits. He waits for someone to ask God for vengeance, then carries it out himself, leaving bloody talismans of his deeds at the altar. It’s hardly Christianity, but it is a great premise for an action movie. Redeemer delivers long sequences of morally sanctioned ultraviolence, sweaty goons with semi-automatics, a lot of brooding and manly stubble, and some very pretty lighting. The film itself could certainly stand to be a little more fleet, a little more willing to embrace absurdity, the comedy and pleasure of chunky arterial spurts. But it’s the right amount of serious where it counts: and that’s the body count.
This is kind of an odd way to toast a Chilean gangster picture with fire and blood style vengeance – but Fred Astaire is famous for saying, “Either the camera will dance, or I will.” Fred Astaire is a better dancer than most cameras, so they don’t even compete. The camera places the audience, sits back, and lets Astaire’s movements create forward momentum and the uplift of a particular number. Now, this also sounds weird, but Marko Zaror, playing a force of retribution named Pardo, is like a modern, monosyllabic, Russian-roulette-playing version of Fred Astaire. His body exudes martial prowess. He’s already kicked ass just by walking into frame. As successive Chilean cartel members with successively poor hairstyling choices challenge him, he metes out justice with an arresting elegance, with an overpowering sense of intuitive athleticism.
Each roundhouse kick, punch, and pivot feel spontaneous and expert, like someone jumping up on top of a table and starting to tap. Zaror choreographed the fights himself and so it’s no surprise they showcase his abilities well. But what’s especially to his credit is that each encounter feels like Zaror adapting to the situation in real time, taking each opponent on their own terms and then just utterly outclassing them. The fights are the selling point of Redeemer, and they have a thrilling immediacy not from Bourne-style shaky cam or other impact aesthetic tricks. It comes from a living, breathing badass who, instead of bursting into song, slams a dude’s face into a boat propeller.
But that thing about either letting your performance do the dancing or using the camera to set the tempo? Redeemer kind of wants to do both, with the result that there’s a lot of slo-mo emphasis where really Zaror could carry the scene. There are certainly a couple places where camera moves or ramping enhances the progression of a fight, but a lot of places where the film trips over its own toes. There’s a sense that, perhaps, director Espinoza is anxious about Redeemer‘s low-budget look. But that helps the ultra-violence feel appealing, often as not. It’s also possible to read the way that redshirts line up to confront Zaror upfront and one at a time as overly simplistic. After a few instances, though, it actually builds up anticipation for Zaror’s next virtuoso move and kind of adds an element of fun to the mix: the “Yes, And” rule placed in the context of hand-to-hand combat.
This gets to the film’s main issue. We won’t take apart plot or symbolism because they’re not worth treating seriously. Redeemer is held together by a series of incidents that facilitate Zaror going on a rampage. Some of them involve an asshole American and his bemused cartel posse, some involve a demonic assassin called El Alacrán, or The Scorpion, who puts his victims in a situation to kill themselves. The characters are, thus necessarily, broad. Espinoza invests what little emotionality he has the patience for in abstractions of damnation and redemption, represented by all the church imagery. But the deadly seriousness of the alleged quiet moments is only relieved by Noah Segan’s grinning Gringo. He’s really the only character who feels like a real person, not an agent of a plot template. His performance – while not out of the ballpark, Malkovich-level crazy – is a treat. If only our heroes were as interesting, or at least the fights came at quicker intervals.
Beer Three And A Half
But what really bugged me? Leaving THE WORST PERSON alive. That’s freshman dorm-level moral development, kids, cheap and relativistic. It would be one thing if Pardo’s acceptance of his darker self in service to good truly made him A Man With No Name, forever alienated, in the good old Western sense, from those he seeks to help. It would be one thing if our pure and compassionate Antonia, rightfully, went her own way after encountering this cypher in not one but two hoodies. But no. They go off together, and Alacrán willfully offs himself for no better reason than one of his devil’s snares finally hasn’t gone his way. The events of the film are inorganic on the whole, and on the whole that’s okay. But at the climax, it becomes a cardinal sin.
Redeemer has neither the filmmaking depth of pulp cousins like Drive nor the sense of abandon which elevates the DIY violence of its uncle, El Mariachi. What it does have is Marko Zaror, who makes kicking ass and taking names look like classical ballet, and Noah Segan, who cements America’s reputation abroad by squeezing an orange. Those things, more compelling than all the Saints, are enough to carry you through the movie. Just enough.