Monday, March 22, 2010

Movie Review: Repo Men

Repo Men ** ½
Directed by:
Miguel Sapochnik.
Written By: Eric Garcia & Garrett Lerner based on the novel by Eric Garcia.
Starring: Jude Law (Remy), Forest Whitaker (Jake), Alice Braga (Beth), Liev Schreiber (Frank), Carice van Houten (Carol), Chandler Canterbury (Peter), RZA (T-Bone).

Repo Men is a great idea in search of a movie that truly wants to explore it. There is so much potential in this story that it was with a sad dawning of realization that I watched it as it continued to focus on action and violence instead of the ideas it contained. The movie establishes its ideas and its strange futuristic setting (obviously inspired, like seemingly every sci-fi movie these days, by Blade Runner) early in the progress, and then abandons them for violence and a plot that twists and turns too often for its own good. Sure, the movie is entertaining in fits and starts, but considering what it had to work with, it should have been great – not merely mediocre.

The movie is set sometime in the future. A company known as The Union has made a major medical breakthrough by creating fake organs that can do the job of real ones. The catch is that the organs are hugely expensive, but the company knows that people have a decision to make about whether to pay for something they cannot afford or dying, that they will sign their lives away every time. Remy (Jude Law) and Jake (Forest Whitaker) make their livings as Repos – men who track down people who cannot pay for their organs and take them back – which of course, leads to them dying. They don’t care however – in their mind, if the people couldn’t afford the organs, they shouldn’t have purchased them, it’s not their fault they cannot pay for them.

But then at a job something goes horribly wrong when Remy’s deliberator malfunctions and he wakes up in the hospital, the proud owner of The Union’s new heart module. That he got hurt on the job doesn’t seem to matter. He still needs to pay for the heart. But the accident has changed him – he can no longer do his job. And with no money coming in, he falls behind in his payments. When his wife throws him out, he meets and falls for Beth (Alice Braga) a beautiful woman who has more fake body parts then real ones, and is well behind on all of her payments. They team up to try and bring The Union down, of course, with Jake on their trail.

This may sound like an entertaining movie, and in a way it is. Directed by Miguel Sapochnik, the film is a violent action movie with some great action set pieces (the best is an obvious homage to Chan-wook Park’s Oldboy, with Law fighting his way through a huge number of people in hall way with knives, and in one instance, a hammer). But, when the movie starts to focus on action, it loses sight on its themes and their meanings, and the movie becomes increasingly illogical. The film contains a few shots on a wondrous futuristic world, with huge sky scrapers, and trains running hundreds of feet in the air, but then pretty much abandons them, for a more ground eye view of humanity. I also didn’t quite understand why seemingly EVERYONE in this new world required these artificial organs, and how The Union seemed to be able to control everything, including airport security. The concept of health insurance never comes up at all during the course of the movie, nor the fact that since Remy gets hurt on the job, his employer may be responsible for his injuries (is there no such think as Worker's Comp in the future?). Repo Men misses a real opportunity to mine some fertile ground in these areas, because it is too focused on blood and guts to care about them.

Watching the movie, I couldn’t help but wonder what a director like David Cronenberg would have done with the material. Throughout his career, Cronenberg has been obsessed with so-called “body horror”, and what comes from within the human body, and what he put into it, and how it affects our identity. There was one sequence in particular – when Remy and Beth try and get out of the system by scanning in their organs, which means cutting themselves, and putting a bar code scanner inside them – that plays like the sort of perverse sex scene that Cronenberg loves to film (it reminded me of his excellent eXistenZ also starring Law). But while Cronenberg could have done the bloody action, and the perverse “sex” in the movie, he also would have brought out the movies themes in a more realistic way – they never would have been jettisoned as they are here.

Repo Men is certainly not a bad movie. There are many entertaining moments, and for the most part the performances all hit the right note. But the film never quite comes together the way it should. It is a missed opportunity of a movie – and those are the ones that disappoint me the most.

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