Release Date: 9th of May 2014
Running Time: 109 Minutes
Director: David Ayer
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sam Worthington, Terrence Howard, Mireille Enos, Joe Manganiello, Josh Holloway
David Ayer’s previous three films as director have been about dodgy cops and vicious criminals on the streets of Los Angeles. Now, with Sabotage, Ayer breaks from tradition and offers up a story about dodgy cops and vicious criminals on the streets of Atlanta. With a cast of scowling, tattooed hard men (and woman, but mainly men) propped up by the Austrian Oak himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ayer has taken his usual formula and turned it up to eleven.
When $10 million dollars of cartel money goes missing in the aftermath of a violent drugs bust; a DEA unit headed up by ‘Breacher’ Wharton find themselves caught between an investigation by the Feds and a brutal campaign of revenge by the drug lords. Thing is, the money they stash is lifted before they manage to collect it, sowing seeds of distrust and paranoia amongst them as they’re slowly whittled down one by one. Acting more like a gang than cops, Breacher’s team are hard-drinking, foul-mouthed alpha dogs pumped up on machismo. They’re horrible people who kill other horrible people; soldiers for the government in the war on drugs. They’re rather difficult to like.
Ayer’s last film, End of Watch, explored the fraternity between police officers Brian and Mike as they prowled the streets of LA. While some of the story moments didn’t always ring true, the friendship did, and with its blend of handheld photography, found footage, and strange, jarring angles it was a high energy, kinetic piece of filmmaking. Sabotage explores much the same territory, only this time it looks at what happens to close-knit bonds like these when they begin to unravel under immense stress. Unfortunately it doesn’t retain any of the startlingly manic direction of that film, resulting in a much more visually staid affair. There are flashes of the hyperactive camerawork abundant in End of Watch but they are all too brief.
That sluggishness in direction is evident in the writing as well, with the story stuttering between fast and brutal action scenes and long stretches of laboured exposition. As the body count rises and Breacher comes across the horribly mutilated corpses of his unit, Sabotage begins to play like a slasher movie but Ayer can’t quite muster the atmosphere of doom requisite for a horror film and Arnie completely undersells any notion of shock or dismay. It also harbours delusions of being a compelling whodunnit, a bombastic action film and a gritty policier but doesn’t really manage to be any of these things. Instead it flip-flops between these elements, never managing to be clever, dynamic or realistic enough to hold up as either.
It’s not all bad though, the action when it occurs is capably executed and suitably violent (this is the most gruesome 15 certificate film I have ever seen) and Mireille Enos puts in a committed performance as a damaged, drug addicted DEA agent, but all in all it’s a bit of a mess. There’s too much going in here to pass as a streamlined guns ‘n’ gore action flick, but not enough to pass as anything else. Bloated and unpleasant, Sabotage shoots itself in the foot.