Tuesday, 20 April 2010

"Repo Men" - Review

I went into "Repo Men" expecting the worst. I'm not a Jude Law fan, but I am a fan of "Repo! The Genetic Opera", and this film appeared to be cut from the same cloth, albeit without any musical interludes (not in the strictest sense). The premise is that in the future, artificial organ transplants are rampant, provided by "The Union". You sign a contract, and if you can't keep up with the payments your organs are repossessed. Those reclaiming the organs are named, obviously, Repo Men. Repossession obviously means that you are cut open in your home by these Repo Men and your organs-- though they were never yours in the first place-- are catalogued and collected and returned to said Union.

Jude Law is likeable. I've never liked Jude Law but he delivers in this film because he doesn't allow himself to overtake the role, and in everything I've seen him in, he's Jude Law, brash, cockney, whatever-- irritating. But in playing Remy, I forgot all that because he was subdued, inhabiting the role as best he could with a cold determination I've never seen from him before. I could ignore my irrational hatred of him. The voice-over (always a risk in film, and especially when it comes to a first-time effort from a director, as this was with Miguel Sapochnik) was light enough that it wasn't too intrusive, and downright funny at times. Jude Law delivered when I expected nothing from him.

Forest Whitaker, on the other hand, is one of the best actors of his generation, and I have never been disappointed by his performance. Playing Jake, he brings a terrifying sense of humour to the role, with all the tics of a human being, and not an actor playing a character. He's terrifying, and throughout you're fearful of him becoming the villain, but it always veers away from him going over that edge-- even with the reveal of him having more to do with Remy's situation that previously thought-- so that the end, whilst a surprise, isn't big enough to make you go "Yeah, but what--?!"

Liev Schreiber, also another one of my favourite actors, plays slime-ball to the hilt, and his delivery of every line is wonderful. In the role of Frank he embodies corporate sleaze, and every time he came onto the screen he was a delight to behold. So, barring the fact I hate Jude Law, the cast was stellar, even though I had to check Wikipedia to actually remember who their characters were.

Thus, my first big problem:

The script was so thin on the ground that the only memorable moments were those that kicked you for attention. I remember the set pieces because they were wonderful and bloody at the same time. The characters were 2D at best, and you could sum them up with a few keywords and still have the same audience impact that they had on the screen. This film was a series of set pieces stringed together with dialogue instead of an actual cohesive whole, and there were certain leaps from one point to another that made no sense to me. If you've read my reviews before, you would know I'm a big fan of verisimilitude, the ability to truly believe the film. I'm a cynic, so I won't believe a film unless it tries hard to engage me, and for the most part films recently have delivered on that. "Kick-Ass" faltered near the end, "The Blind Side" had an excruciatingly irritating comic relief character. The stumbling point for "Repo Men" was the [re]introduction of the character of Beth, a throwaway character in an earlier scene, and someone who just happened to be around when Remy was at his lowest. Thus romance ensues, and it was just... strange. He loved her voice (Remy loves music, it's a weakness, more on that later) and then loved her for everything else later. She's apprehensive at first because he's a Repo Man, but eventually they fall in love and stick together. Bit of a reach, but fine, whatever. That bugged me.

The soundtrack to this film was immense. From the opening repossession scene punctuated by Remy slipping on his headphones and listening to "Sway" (a song you cannot go wrong with) as he cuts into his target, to the perfection of some of the closing scenes, UNKLE's "Burn My Shadow" and "Sing It Back" by Moloko. Nina Simone, Beck and others have appearances on the soundtrack and it was so sublime that I have to pick it up. If I was going to rate the film out of ten, it would go up two points on music alone. I adored it, and would listen to the whole thing on repeat if I had the time (oh, and I do).

Talking of the closing scenes, two songs and two scenes feature very much in my enjoyment of the film as a whole. I think you can take it by now that this is a spoiler zone, so if you don't want to ruin the film for yourself you can skip a paragraph or two, so, if you're still with me... the "Oldboy"-esque fight scene between Remy and a horde of Repo Men, with UNKLE blaring in the background as he cuts into them ("HACK! SAW!" being a dialogue highlight. You'll understand once you see it) was immense. And after that, the overtly erotic scene of Remy and Beth literally cutting into each other as they scanned their organs to fool the computer into "closing their accounts" was both horrifically visceral but perfectly done.

I've heard this film referred to as "torture porn" by some, but that's a misnomer. If anything, it's "gore porn", and not in the usual sense of the word. It doesn't revel in it's horror. Not really. There are perfectly timed cutaways as Remy and Jake go about their business, though one scene, with a nine year old and some open knee surgery were steady to the pointy of hilarity. This film knew it's target audience wasn't going to be the cultural elite (was that self deprecating of me?), and it catered to it perfectly (Hacksaw-eye-view!). The violence had a somewhat surreal normality about it, reminiscent of "A Clockwork Orange", and an early scene reminded me of the Kubrick classic when a sudden burst of violence appeared from nowhere, and a comparison like that can be nothing if not a compliment, correct? There was a workman-like effort from Miguel Sapochnik, a thorough, well-thought out direction that framed the film nicely. Kubrick would have approved. Probably. (Probably not).

Talking of "Oldboy", I have to admit, I was a bit concerned that the entire scene in the corridor was lifted from that film. Don't get me wrong, it deviated from it somewhat (it wasn't just one, steady, uncompromising shot) but there were moments that reinforced my idea that this film was a collage of other films put together into one whole. Check it out and you'll see what I mean. Also, I could have sworn I heard a musical beat from "The Matrix" during a chase scene as well, and all that coupled with the controversy with "Repo! The Genetic Opera" (apparently the creators of that film shopped it to Universal, who liked the concept but not the musical nature of the film, so take from that what you will) bubbled to the forefront my mind.

The fight scenes were well executed considering that this was Sapochnik's first feature, and there was a great use of the colour pallet utilised. The dark shadows of the "nest" ship early on in the film were brilliantly morbid, and echoed well later on in the film when Remy and Beth stumble into another nest of repossession jumpers. And later still, the stark contrast between Remy's grubby attire and the organ builders in the closing act-- all well done and beautiful. The explosions of blood-- and this doesn't apply just to this film, but all films recently-- took a distinctly Zack Snyder-esque turn on exploding out of any exposed artery, and the

I called the ending at the half-way point. The script fell victim to a trope known as Chekhov's Gun, coined by the noted short-story writer Anton Chekhov, who once said: "If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it's not going to be fired, it shouldn't be hanging there." It's Foreshadowing 101. Time and again in this film were we exposed to elements that we'd meet again down the line. Lingering, knowing shots gave us the wink, and a litany of minute details were not forgotten by the writers Eric Garcia and Garrett Lerner. The type-writer, the hole in the floor, the M5 Neural Net, the Jammers, the lung costume, the four times Remy had been knocked unconscious and the curious fifth that takes place at half way through the film... all these elements were picked up on and tied up in a neat package before the credits rolled. I don't feel insulted, or robbed, I feel treated fairly-- the less involved viewer might be surprised, but I wasn't lied to. If you follow the clues you solve the mystery, even if there doesn't seem to be one. Kudos.

And now an element I think would divide viewers: I don't think the ending was a cop out. It could one way or the other, and with mention to Chekhov and his gun, I think it was satisfactory. I adored Jake's man-crush on Remy. If there was any subtext to the film it was Jake's love for that man. He beat him up in the playground when they were at school
(and eventually, when they were grown men, at work too) , they were always together at bars, barbecues and repossessions. Jake tried his best to separate Remy from his wife (thus driving him into the arms of another woman. Oops) and then to keep their partnership intact. And it wasn't wholly un-reciprocated... the final scene at the beach, Remy at his happiest? Jake is right there. Ignore the attractive Chinese neighbour that Jake promises Remy-- it's all one massive beard situation. The film was the perfect cap to a solid film, and I am going to buy it on DVD in the hope that there's more. Brilliant stuff.


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