The first film of the 2010 blockbuster season that’s actually fun
The one thing that differentiates a good film from a great film in the “men on a mission” subgenre of action films is the “chalk talk.” Originally something from Bob le flambeur, a French New Wave crime film, it’s a staple of many genres. For those who haven’t seen that film, the chalk talk is when the main characters discuss and visually plan out what they are going to do while it is shown happening. Bob gave it a name since the characters used chalk to diagram it out, and few if any films have used it the same way, but how well a film does it gives you a clue as to how good the film will be. Most films don’t do it well, some do it just good enough to keep the film at a higher level of quality and some do it magnificently. The A-Team fits into the last category and then some.
Based off the 1980s television property of the same name, with just enough altered to port it into the modern era, the A-Team are disgraced Iraq War vets making a living as soldiers of fortune. The A-Team would qualify as an origin film in that it sets up a franchise as well. Hannibal (Liam Neeson) is head of the team, its mastermind, always with a cigar. Face (Bradley Cooper) is the talker of the group, the man who acquires the goods they need for the job and is a bit of a smooth talker. Murdock (Sharlito Copley) is the group’s pilot and is certified insane. B.A (UFC and MMA veteran Quinton “Rampage” Jackson) rounds out the group as its driver, mechanic and muscle. Wrongly convicted of a crime they didn’t commit, the film follows the group from their initial first meeting to their quest to clear their names.
Rumored for years, with lots of dream casts listed and debated by fans, this is certainly the group of actors that nobody could’ve imagined coming together. But the interesting thing is just how well they work with one another despite their varied backgrounds. Neeson is a veteran hand, Cooper a burgeoning star with Copley and Jackson who are relatively inexperienced and yet they work together like this is the fifth film in the franchise and not the first. There’s a natural, flowing chemistry between them that infects the entire film and elevates the material much higher than it ought to be. They play off each other in interesting ways and it is Copley who absolutely steals the film at every possible occasion.
A revelation in District 9, he proves that his spirited performance in that film wasn’t a fluke as Murdock takes on a whole new life. The role itself is one requiring some panache but Copley has the sort of steady, gifted performance that brings life to the film. It’s fascinating to see him raise his performance around Neeson, the film’s steadiest part. Neeson keeps the film on an even keel and the rest of the cast seems to elevate itself around him. This is a genre film and there aren’t any brilliant performances, but better than required performances are in abundance.
Jackson and Cooper bring enough to the table to justify their presence in the film. Cooper, a burgeoning A-list star, showcases enough ability that he makes for an interesting understudy to Neeson. Face and Hannibal have the sort of partner relationship that mimics a strong May/December police officer relationship in a buddy film; Neeson & Cooper would make for an interesting pair outside of this. Jackson isn’t required to do much beyond his limited abilities besides use his natural presence and charisma, alongside his obvious physical gifts, but manages to bring up his game so that he doesn’t stand out like a sore thumb amongst the cast.
It doesn’t hurt that Joe Carnahan has invested the film with the sort of energy from the original television show with a bit more of a violent edge to it. Carnahan knows exactly the tone and pace he wants to set early on and is relentless in setting it. This is a film that walks the line between camp and fun and ends up on the fun side for almost the entire running time. The film has a cheekiness to it that’s refreshing from a summer blockbuster; it has a simple, easy to follow narrative about good guys getting wronged and wanting justice on those who wrong them and does it strongly. This is easily Carnahan’s strongest narrative work since Narc as he’s focused on a simple story filled to the brim with action sequences.
And that’s the film’s chief strength outside of its cast, the action. With just enough comedy throughout to keep the tone of the television series coming through, the film’s action sequences are ridiculously over the top but somehow manages to work considering the film’s tone. The film is just serious enough to keep it edgy and thrilling, yet the film is so over the top when it comes to its action that it never gets too serious.
It’s not a perfect film, but it’s an incredibly fun one that knows it’s a genre film and succeeds because it fully embraces the concept of being a fun action film. There are moments of levity, and some great comedic moments to keep it from becoming monotonous. In a summer that’s been a disappointing one so far, The A-Team is a bright light because it dares to be a rip-roaring good time.
Director: Joe Carnahan Notable Cast: Liam Neeson, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Bradley Cooper, Sharlito Copley, Jessica Biel , Patrick Wilson Writer(s): Joe Carnahan, Brian Bloom and Skip Woods based off the television show “The A-Team” created by Frank Lupo and Stephen J. Cannell