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 planning 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 with the ladies. Murdock (Sharlto Copley) is the group’s pilot and is a certified lunatic. 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, Copley 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 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 and natural toughness, 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.
Presented in a widescreen format with a Dolby Digital presentation, The A-Team looks absolutely stunning on Blu-Ray. This is a film with a lot of sound and action and it comes through cleanly and clearly.
The Theatrical Release, as well as an Extended Edition, are included. The Extended Edition adds about 20 minutes to the original edition of the film but nothing significant in terms of quality. There’s also a Digital Copy of the Theatrical Release available alongside the Theatrical Trailer.
The Devil’s In the Details: Inside the Action with Joe Carnahan is a combination picture in picture and commentary track as Carnahan walks us through the film while various facts about the film and the various plans, etc, employed by Hannibal Smith and gang. Carnahan’s perspective on the film is that he wanted to make a great action film while also being faithful to the television show. Only on the theatrical edition of the film, the piece goes back to a seated Carnahan with behind the scenes footage as he talks about what he was trying to do and how time constraints forced him to condense some sequences he wanted to extend. Carnahan’s insight into incorporating his four leading men into one cohesive unit, especially considering the relative inexperience of Jackson and Copley, is remarkable as he’s well aware of the fact that he has an Oscar nominee (Neeson) and another potential first rate leading man (Cooper) and has some insight on how to incorporate it all. Carnahan is boring when he discusses the technical aspects but he has a lot of provide when it comes to providing insight into his decisions. His brief discussion of how he wanted Quinton Jackson to be B.A and not do an impression of Mr. T, the original actor, gives you insight and he explores themes like this throughout the film. Coupled with the footage it’s a fascinating insight into why he developed the film into what it came to be. He does have a funny moment, too, during the first action sequence he mentions that “if you’re looking for proper physics, just turn off the film man” that kind of sums up his whole approach to the film’s action sequences.
Deleted Scenes are included and it’s easy to see why they were cut. This is footage that’s not in the extended cut and was excised for a reason. A Gag Reel has a similar effect.
Plan of Attack is a behind the scenes look at the film. Carnahan was inspired by Chris Nolan and the new Batman franchise, wanting to instead take a look at Special Forces operators through the lens of the A-Team setup. A lot of what Carnahan’s vision behind making the film is that he wanted to make a film for an audience that has matured since the television series. A big deference is made to Liam Neeson’s casting early on, as the cast seems in awe of him and there’s an unspoken sentiment that with him on board they had to make a great film because they have someone with true dramatic gravitas on board as the leader of the group. Carnahan wanted to make something that would work for today’s audience, as opposed to merely pandering to an audience from 25 years ago, by keeping certain things and changing others. The cast was also heavily into the film’s production, as Carnahan’s cast did plenty of their own stunts as well.
Character Chronicles are quick character pieces on Hannibal, et al. Carnahan’s vision comes out throughout these as he gives us an insight into how he pictured the characters and how the actors came into the film prepared. The unbridled sense of fun that they had making the film showed during it but the behind the scenes footage is indicative of it. Copley mentions that “Rampage” Jackson wanted him to become a U.S Citizen so that way there’d be two African-Americans on the A-Team, amongst others.
Visual Effects Before and After comes with commentary by Visual Effects Supervisor James E Price is a quick piece on the CGI, which was remarkably heavy throughout.
Updated for a world that has left the television series in the dust, this is perhaps the best possible version of The A-Team that could’ve come to the big screen. With a great cast that works well together, it’s a shame that the film didn’t do as well at the box office as a franchise with these four actors & characters would be an interesting proposition. As it stands an updated, modern look at the television show gives us one more great film in 2010.
20th Century Fox presents The A-Team. Directed by Joe Carnahan. Starring Liam Neeson, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Bradley Cooper, Sharlto Copley, Jessica Biel, Patrick Wilson. Written by Joe Carnahan, Brian Bloom and Skip Woods, based off the television show “The A-Team” created by Frank Lupo and Stephen J. Cannell. Running time: 117 minutes. Rating: PG-13. Released on Blu-ray and DVD: December 21, 2010.
Tags: Bradley Cooper, Jessica Alba, Joe Carnahan, Liam Neeson, The A-Team