Arnold Schwarzenegger has had an incredible career resurgence over the past few years. Most of them have been cheesy action yarns that call back to his past glory as an action star, complete with one-liners and comedic relief. Sabotage is the antithesis of all of that. This is not a very fun movie, people expecting a funny Arnold and a feel good story are going to be gutted by what they see here. The film opens on a home video recording of a woman being tortured to death by them, setting the tone that this isn’t going to be a pleasant experience.
The film then switches gears as we’ve introduced to our main characters: a corrupt team of undercover DEA agents pulling off a huge heist against a Mexican drug cartel. Arnold is of course their leader, John “Breacher” Wharton. And the rest of his team are no slouches either: Sam Worthington as James “Monster” Murray, Joe Manganiello as Joe “Grinder” Phillips, Terrance Howard as Julius “Sugar” Edmonds, Max Martini (whose name sounds like a secret agent) as Tom “Pyro” Roberts, Josh Holloway as Eddie “Neck” Jordan, and Mirelle (The Killing) Enos as Lizzy Murry. It seems set up to be a bad ass ensemble, like Predator or the more recent Expendables, and in some respects it is. All the macho tropes are on display and some of the dialogue is cringe-inducing when they try to act like the hardest hard ass to ever walk the face of the Earth. Thankfully there isn’t much of that though as after the heist they are all picked off one by one in a violent manner, seemingly by someone out for revenge after the heist.
To investigate the proceedings, Detective Caroline Brentwood (Olivia Williams) comes in to investigate the murders and find out who is offing John’s team. Of course, none of the team are any help to her, but a romantic relationship is formed between her and John that smoulders as the film goes on. Williams is an incredible actress and her character has to put up with a lot of crap from John’s team, and she doesn’t back down a bit as she verbally emasculates them. As they each start to die one by one in more ghoulish murders (one is nailed to his ceiling) the cracks in the group start to form and it seems the truth about the heist is about to come out, which puts the team increasingly on edge and against each other as a vital piece of information regarding the opening scene of the film comes to light that changes everything that came before it and adds perspective on what’s happening.
There is a lot of great action sequences in this film including a white-knuckle car chase near the end. But before we get to that point, we’re treated to some very cringe inducing gun battles that end violently. Director David Ayer (End of Watch) pretty much keeps this film grounded in reality, and the deaths have more of an impact because of it. This is the hardest edged action film I’ve seen in quite some time. The subject of Mexican drug cartels and police corruption isn’t a light subject at all and it’s to Ayer’s credit he sheds light on how horrible these scumbags are, especially since there are people who think we live in a world full of unicorns and cotton candy where allowing people like them to come into the United States from Mexico without documentation is a wonderful idea.
Pretty much any of the cast can run circles around Arnold in terms of acting ability and it’s because he’s surrounded by such talented people that you never really think of this as an “Arnold movie”. Not that Arnold doesn’t add anything to this, or even does a bad job. His character is morally ambiguous; this is the closest he’s come to playing a villain since Terminator and the first time he’s been allowed to truly act in some time. I’d be remiss if I didn’t say this movie borrows very liberally from The Shield, the parallels between John Wharton and Vic Mackey are fairly obvious as they are charismatic assholes whose bad choices damn everyone around them. But there are huge differences as well that I’ll leave for you to discover on your own. At the films denouement, Wharton is left drinking alone, and most likely a dead man walking, it’s up to the individual as to if it was all worth it.
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