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Sabotage (2014)
Tonight's Feature Presentation

SABOTAGE (2014)

Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Olivia Williams, Sam Worthington, Terrence Howard, Mireille Enos

Written By: Skip Woods, David Ayer Directed By: David Ayer

The Short Version

Arnold Schwarzenegger headlines a decidedly modern action drama.

Decidedly modern = gritty, dark, and without the old 1980s sense of fun.

And let’s not forget bloody.  Sabotage is very bloody.

It’s also got a decent storyline backed up by very good performances.

Sabotage is a good movie that’s worth seeing… but once is probably enough.


The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

MUENSTER.

Preferably without an awful beard.


Pairs Well With...

HOUSE WHISKEY.

Everyone in Sabotage drinks to forget, and they pound down bottles of Pabst to do it, but that’s too fun and retro.  The burn of a line of rail whiskey specials seems more appropriate.

“I know where the money is.  Do you?”


If you walk into Sabotage expecting anything resembling an old school Arnold Schwarzenegger action flick, guess again.  There’s no real humor.  The one liners are joyless.  The gruesome moments are just that, and not over the top fun.  Truth be told, this flick’s not particularly Schwarzeneggerian at all, even when he breaks out the giant cigars.  No; this is a movie for the second decade of the new millennium, and it’s got the grit and the shadows to prove it.

For the story that Sabotage wants to tell, that gritty atmosphere happens to work, and work well.  It’s an old story, deep down – whether you knew that old story as Ten Little Indians or And Then There Were None, the characters here owe something to Agatha Christie – but the dressing and the twists are decidedly modern, made for audiences jaded by a never ending stream of dark cop shows and newscasts that revel in pointing out how nasty the world is, and for people who find antiheroes far more interesting than the good guys of old.  After all, the purely good guys always end up being suckers, right?

The members of elite DEA unit around which the story of Sabotage centers don’t feel like being suckers anymore.  After years of taking down billionaire drug lords for government wages, they’re ready to claim their due and score themselves an off-the-books bonus to the tune of $10 million snatched from the top of a giant stack of cash they find during a bust.  But when the dirty cops come back after the raid to pick up the stashed-away money, it’s gone.  Even worse, their bosses at the DEA know that the pile of bills in the evidence locker is light, and they put the members of the unit under investigation.

Six months go by, no one breaks, and the suits give up.  But just because they’re in the clear, that doesn’t mean that the crooked cops’ problems are over.  Someone starts taking them down one by one, and there’s still the matter of $10 million that just up and vanished.  Could this be a drug cartel’s revenge, or is one of our “heroes” eliminating witnesses?

Considering that this is, after all, the 21st Century, which answer seems more likely to you?

Whether or not you end up guessing the answer before the script decides to tell you, Sabotage plays more than well enough to keep things interesting.  The dynamics of the DEA team at the heart of it all are well explored and well realized.  Individual characters are only as deep as their particular slots in the storyline require them to be, but given the pace and flow of things, that works.  The story’s tight, the plot holds water, the characters are decent, and the performances are good (with Olivia Williams proving to be the movie’s major standout; just watch the accent).  Director David Ayer keeps up a consistent atmosphere throughout, and presents dramatic sequences with the same intensity as he does gun battles.

And for those who saw Arnold Schwarzenegger’s name on the poster and just assumed “action” before walking in, there’s definitely action.  Very bloody, very gruesome action.

There are several of the aforementioned intense gun battles.  There’s a pulse-pounding car chase.  When a train hits a Winnebago, the wreckage is spectacular and disturbingly realistic, right down the scattered bits of corpse strewn across an area the length of a football field.  When someone gets shot in the head, the camera lingers long enough to provide a clear view of not just the splatter on the back end, but also of the blood bubbling out through the entrance wound.  When someone else is nailed to the ceiling in a visceral manner taken right out of sickeningly real drug cartel torture headlines, there are zero punches pulled, and no gore is spared.  But the thing is: this isn’t a glorification of violence any more than it is the silly cartoonish fun of the 1980s.  It’s just visceral, in-your-face grit that’s made to look as horrifying as it would in real life, and any embellishments are (frighteningly) minor.  It’s not gratuitous; it’s there to make a point.  A dark, unsettling point.  And when all is said and done, the harsh violence proves to be one of the strong pillars of the film, providing the atmosphere needed to tell this story properly without ever crossing either the “too much” or “too little” line. 

Back in the day, the story served the action; here, the action and its gory aftermath serve the story.  The classic but modern story.

The story that’s really good, and very well presented… but also, much like the sleazy dive of a strip club that our DEA pals visit early on in Sabotage, not as much fun as a random audience might expect going in.  Indeed, though I did enjoy the movie and am happy to have seen it in a theatre, I can’t really describe the experience of Sabotage as “fun” at all.  Good, interesting, sure… but not something I’m inclined to go out of my way to see again, and therein lies the difference between the grit of a modern story like this one and the over the top cheese that defined Arnold Schwarzenegger’s golden age.  Commando might be ridiculous, but I can watch it over and over again without getting tired of it, while Sabotage, however good it may be, would feel like a boat anchor on the soul without a very long stretch between viewings.  The darkness and the grit can only be taken for so long.

Bottom line, critically speaking, Sabotage is a very good movie with a solid story, decent performances, and a harsh, spot-on atmosphere.  If you’re a longstanding Schwarzenegger fan, you may be in for a surprise with this one, and if you’re not, you’ll find that he doesn’t get in the way of the film.  But its goodness has a shelf life, and I rate that shelf life at one viewing before it gets to be too much.  The movie ends exactly when it needs to, and as such, is best experienced either once at a theatre (always the best way to go) or once in a rental queue later on.  As for myself, enjoy the movie though I did, I can’t imagine rushing to buy the blu ray for the permanent collection.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, March, 2014


You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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