Sabotage – Review


David Ayer reworks a script and gets average results

Advertising is manipulation. From television commercials to the means in which movies are pushed towards audiences (mostly in the form of trailers and TV spots), advertising can affect your perception of a product. This is the case for David Ayer’s Sabotage. The trailers were cut in such a way to misdirect you as to what the movie was about. Rather than go with a straightforward approach what we get instead is a sloppy narrative that seems less like a David Ayer film and more like Ayer doing his best to tweak a story and make it work.

Turns out my assumption was correct.

Sabotage was originally written by Skip Woods, a screenwriter who doesn’t have the best track record. Not only did he pen the worst X-Men movie (with X-Men Origins: Wolverine), he also wrote the worst Die Hard sequel (A Good Day to Die Hard). His latest is his first original work since 2001’s Swordfish, an action thriller more recognized because Halle Berry got paid a king’s ransom to go topless for one particular scene.

The motivations of David Ayer’s involvement with the project I do not know, but his arrival meant a complete reworking of Woods’ script. Sabotage is the outcome and it seems like a step back for the writer-director that gave us the brilliant cop drama End of Watch (2012) and who also penned Denzel Washington’s Oscar-winning role in Training Day (2000).

Previously known as Ten and Breacher, Ayer’s film centers on an elite squad of DEA operatives. Ten members total, the team is commanded by John “Breacher” Wharton (Arnold Schwarzenegger), a real hard-ass and also the presiding father figure to a ragtag taskforce where everyone has analogous nicknames like “Monster” and “Grinder” and “Pyro.” When a drug cartel safe house bust leads to a six-month investigation involving the whereabouts of $10 million in stolen money, all of the members play it straight, unwilling to sell out the team and cooperate with government suits. But when the investigation is closed, however, the members begin to be killed off one by one in elaborate fashion, almost as if they were characters in Agatha Christie’s novel And Then There Were None. Not coincidentally, Christie’s novel served as inspiration for Woods’ original screenplay.

While the advertisements exude a them (cartel) against us (DEA) narrative, that’s where misdirection comes into play. The result is a story mired with character complications and motivations that ultimately prevent it from being anything more than your average action crime thriller. This is disappointing since David Ayer has proven to be one of the best when it comes to making cop dramas. He is to stories of law enforcement (see also Street Kings and Dark Blue) as David Fincher is with redefining procedurals (Seven, Zodiac).

The almost saving graces lie in the direction and overall tone. Ayer’s direction is top-notch; he shows a commanding presence with his ability to film tactical maneuvers and action when the team infiltrates safe houses and hideaways, and makes them come across as authentic. The tone comes through in the execution of how the supporting characters exude their presence in scenes not always involving gunplay. In some respects they mirror the testosterone found in The Expendables. Joe Manganiello is quite a character as the one called Grinder, as is Sam Worthington looking almost unrecognizable at first as Monster. The wild card in all this testosterone is Mireille Enos (of AMC’s The Killing) as Lizzy. Looking like a crack addict that should be a poster child of America Undercover, here she mouths off like a sailor but is more than able to hang with the boys.

As for Arnold, he is the seasoned vet of the project. His Breacher character is what I’d imagine John Matrix (his character from Commando) would have become if his family were to ever be taken only to not make it out alive in the end. A tough, no-nonsense individual, Breacher is driven yet his quest for revenge is abated for much of the film’s duration. It isn’t until the shoot-out conclusion that he’s able to go out on his own terms and like Frank Sinatra do it his way. But with having already suffered through some poorly done plot twists the audience will be the ones who feel sabotaged in the end.

Director: David Ayer
Writer(s): Skip Woods and David Ayer
Notable Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sam Worthington, Joe Manganiello, Mireille Enos, Josh Holloway, Terrence Howard, Max Martini, Olivia Williams

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