Writer-director David Ayer is striving to redefine the modern crime drama for the millennium, evidence proved with well-written, authentically violent films such as Training Day, Street Kings, and the insultingly underrated End of Watch. Now he teams up with the nostalgic action star Arnold Schwarzenegger for Sabotage and whether it’s a hit or not, it was Schwarzenegger’s best film in 15 years.
However, the trailers and “critics” want you to believe this is another wall to wall action film with Schwarzenegger spouting off one-liners like a Pez dispenser. Far from it, this is actually Arnold trying something completely different, a mystery thriller involving an elite DEA task force that as he quotes are “the best undercover cops in the DEA.” Loosely based off of Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians (yeah, you read that correctly), it starts off with the team infiltrating a drug cartel’s safe house in Atlanta and stealing 10 million. But when they go to the sewers to recover it, it’s mysteriously gone and someone is offing members of his team. Still, you don’t want to mess with Arnold.
Much props to the casting director for recruiting one great supporting cast to join the seasoned 66 year old. Schwarzengger plays John “Breacher” Wharton, the leader of the team alongside Sam Worthington (Avatar) playing his second hand badass, Monster. Worthington really brings some depth to his character. He’s calm and tactical on the job, but at home an absolute paranoid mess on account of what happened on their last bust. In cornrows and driving a Harley is Grinder, played with fierce intensity by Joe Manganiello, and we also get Terrance Howard’s “Sugar”, Josh Holloway’s “Neck”, Max Martini’s (Captain Phillips) “Pyro” and as the woman right for the part that could rival Eva Green for female sociopath of 2014, Mirelle Enos is Lizzy. In every scene she appears, Enos embodies Lizzy’s crazy and adrenaline-heavy persona with such gritty grace. Also, we get some solid work from Olivia Williams and Harold Perrineau Jr. as Atlanta detectives who are investigating the homicide in question.
I told you I could act. Trust me.
Schwarzenegger always bringing the same cigar-chewing charisma to every role, but even though his accent is included, you can actually see him giving some depth to his character. I applaud that Ayer (who also penned the screenplay) gives him an opening where we learn he’s “the father” of the team, keeping them in check and even letting us see what Wharton is going throughout this film mentally, and the reasons for his character’s actions.
You are terminated, film geeks!
Count on Ayer to bring the tactics and positions of this elite task force so the audience gets the feeling of what kind of attitude you have to bring to get this job. You become a family when you work under Wharton, no matter how masochistic, crude, or foul-mouthed you are. You are family to him. The action sequences are brought to reality with tons of blood, but you have to understand, though, that dying is messy in real life. No stylization here, just a lot of handheld camerawork and a dark, broody tone throughout, which I never felt switched genres or was heavy-handed.
You can tell through his time in the military, Ayer discovered how drug cartels react when someone steals their money. Let’s just say that they want to send a strong, violent message.
We don’t need S.W.A.T!
The script by Ayer and Skip Woods (Hitman, Swordfish) is unfortunately a mixed bag. At times, I did feel like they were reading off two different scripts. I could tell when Ayer’s words were being said and then we get the cheesy philosophy that Woods continues to unfortunately provide. Trust me, one monologue from A Good Day to Die Hard was enough for me. I don’t even understand why Ayer just didn’t write it himself because it would have been a lot more concrete in storytelling, but instead in the last 20 minutes we witness two telegraphed twists that felt like Woods typing away. However, the ending… that was all Ayer.
Damn you, Skip.
Sabotage is a must for all Schwarzenegger fans to see with its authenticity in law enforcement tactics and judgment calls along with grit sprayed across the twist-filled story and engaging action sequences. It almost makes you feel like you’re watching a Spaghetti Western even when it gets predictable. Leave it up to the ending to show, repeatedly, why you never mess with Arnold. Ever.
Take a Drink: every time you hear the word, “family”
Do a Shot: when Schwarzenegger has the cigar and sunglasses on at the same time
Down a 32 oz: when you see Schwarzenegger don a cowboy hat (trust me, it’s awesome)