Sabotage

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Reviewed by: David Graham

Arnold Schwarzeneggeer in Sabotage
"It doesn't quite add up to the sum of its parts, but there's still enough salty brio to Sabotage to keep it eminently watchable."

Since his retirement from governating last year, Arnie's movie slate has been busier than ever, but he hasn't strayed very far from his Eighties roots until now. Sabotage is the most serious project the rejuvenated Schwarzenegger has tackled yet, directed by Training Day scriptwriter David Ayer with the sort of politically-minded verve he brought to Harsh Times and End Of Watch.

It still degenerates into a shoot'em-up at enough points to keep the masses happy, but it's considerably harder-edged than the likes of The Last Stand and Escape Plan, with a paranoid, anti-authority streak that echoes classic Seventies thrillers by the likes of William Friedkin and Francis Ford Coppola. As with his previous films, Ayer might not hit his targets dead-on, but you've got to admire him for trying to inject a little reality into otherwise lowbrow material.

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A corrupt drug-war task force find themselves on someone's hit-list after the spoils of their latest raid go missing. Big daddy Breacher struggles to marshal his squad when the bickering kicks in, with already shaky dynamics between 'Monster' Murray and his wife Lizzy further compounding the tension between the rest of the group. With their dubious exploits leading to suspension from duty, everyone becomes a suspect, and the body count begins. This brings hard-nosed investigator Caroline Brentwood onto the scene, whose burgeoning affection for Breacher threatens to put her in danger too.

Like Oliver Stone's similarly wayward Savages, Ayer's uncertain tone makes it hard to tell where he's condemning and where he's indulging these characters. His approach to the violence is just as shaky, with some of the executions handled in solemn Se7en-style aftermath mode, while others unabashedly adopt torture porn's trappings. Sprinkling squib-laden shooting galleries throughout feels like an unnecessary concession to Arnie's fan-base as well and only undermines the attempts at tension and relatively serious subject matter elsewhere. End Of Watch worked a similar balance between gory action and solemn issues with more aplomb, but you have to admire Ayer for trying.

The performances are suitably amped up - almost to the point of unintentional hilarity at times - with Arnie's encroaching old age still proving something of an asset to his previously limited range; he juggles concern, world-weariness and vulnerability with a skill that may catch you off-guard if you give him the chance. Sam Worthington, as Monster, is a bit more tolerable than usual, even his accent having improved (no doubt from his surprisingly sterling work on Texas Killing Fields) and his conviction is plain to see, perhaps in a way that's only fitting having hit the career skids following AAA blockbuster over-exposure.

Olivia Williams is a little more awkward but has fun with her brassy detective, while Mireille Enos makes for a flinty warrior chick, infusing her character's cliched attempts to match the boys for testosterone-pumping with just enough underlying sadness to keep her sympathetic. Terrence Howard, Joe Manganiello and Josh Holloway - among other Lost lifers and indie thesps - are all somewhat wasted but nevertheless contribute to the sense that the ensemble believes in the material and their director, rather than merely cashing their cheques.

Ayer's direction is as confident as you'd expect from someone who's cut their teeth on scripts that seek to expose the sometimes shady underbelly of law enforcement while still keeping the enforcing gratuitous enough to please the plebs, but his handling of the drama isn't quite as affecting as it's been before. Perhaps there's just too many characters for him to forge relationships between for the audience to latch on to - he's most successful portraying the domestic dysfunction such a hard-boiled life causes, as he did so well in End Of Watch - but there's a sense that even at 109 minutes, he's rushing to get to the next gunfight.

It doesn't quite add up to the sum of its parts, but there's still enough salty brio to Sabotage to keep it eminently watchable, and it's refreshing to see such a genuinely grizzled batch of characters, making the whodunnit element difficult to solve for once. There's a tangible level of criticism for their surface-level investment in each other as a 'family', the warped morals of the US arms trade biting them back when the post-credit crunch 'every man for themselves' mentality sees their trust crumble further with each fresh corpse. Falling between stools won't help it recoup its budget, but it does make for a more interesting Arnie vehicle than most, even if it's Ayer's least effective venture to date.

Reviewed on: 29 May 2014
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A corrupt drug task force find themselves on a hit list.

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