Sabotage (David Ayer, 2014) – There’s an interesting problem with Sabotage that most films never quite suffer from. Once you go through the few supplemental features on the film’s Blu-Ray (which was not made available to press and I had to go out and buy on my own), you’ll get wind that there was a much better film that had been made from the material than the final product suggested. The final theatrical cut of the film is a fine, but flawed whodunit that flies off the rails in the final ten minutes or so, but there’s a whole ten minute alternate ending and a handful of deleted scenes that work a lot better than what got tacked on as the ending that ultimately got released. Not that anyone in Canada even saw the original ending earlier this year when it was almost unceremoniously dumped for release in the States. In Canada this latest film from the director of End of Watch and the writer of Training Day – and the latest stop on the Arnold Schwarzenegger comeback tour – didn’t even get a cursory theatrical release before quietly coming to home video. It’s a shame. It’s not a movie that aims incredibly high, but there’s enough merit and ambition here that makes me wish something better had come of this.
An elite DEA task force made up of alpha males and an alpha woman are forced to reconcile their sins after an attempt to skim ten million dollars from a cartel seizure leads to the death of one of their own. Team leader Breacher (Schwarzenegger), a hotshot with high level Washington connections, initially loses his job and his team until the case against them is dropped due to lack of evidence. Breacher rejoins is crew just in time to watch his colleagues start getting picked off one by one. It’s clear to him that this has something to do with the botched raid and heist, but since they’re all pariahs in the department and their deaths in such a stressful job can be chalked up as an “occupational hazard” no one seems surprised and even fewer will miss their presence. It’s up to Breacher and a local homicide detective (Olivia Williams) to figure out if the cartel has come back or the threat is coming from within the department.
Sabotage maintains the kind of verite style that Ayer’s films generally gravitate towards whether he’s behind the camera or not, and it serves the script well. So too does the film’s almost uncompromisingly gory violence. It’s going for a sort of 70s or 80s hardcore aesthetic and succeeding. It’s definitely not for the squeamish in terms of movement and temperament. Bits involving a killer who goes a bit overzealous with a nail gun and a nasty looking car crash are a bit gratuitous, but it also showcase that this isn`t Ayer trying to make some grander point about cops and society, but simply trying to deliver a well honed piece of genre entertainment (at least in the final cut of the film, anyway).
For the most part, the script from Ayer and Skip Woods (Swordfish, The A-Team) takes on a sort of brutalist Agatha Christie vibe that comes down somewhere between Ten Little Indians and And Then There Were None. The mystery isn’t very obvious (and some of that sadly comes from some of the material that got chopped, since the film had a rumoured original running time of close to three hours, but has now been whittled down to about 105 minutes) and the performances keep you guessing. All of the characters are so purposefully cocky and unlikable (except for Williams’ great work as a hardened outsider) that any one of them could have done it and you probably wouldn’t bat an eyelash.
Arnie delivers not only the best performance he’s had since his return to acting, but one of the best of his career as a man with a dark past who has to toe the line between badass and buttoned down professional. He has spectacular chemistry with Williams with the give and take between the two of them giving the film some of its best moments. Similarly turning in fine performances are an almost unrecognizable Sam Worthington as the most consistently edgy member of the crew, Mireille Enos as the female undercover member of the squad who happens to be Worthington’s wife and a junkie, and Joe Manganiello as the guy most likely to snitch on his fellow officers.
It all goes along entertainingly enough. It’s essentially just a gussied up slasher movie with cops as the target, and by those standards Sabotage is perfectly passable. That is until the final ten minutes. The story and tone changes so drastically and so far out of left field that the ending seems like an afterthought. It’s so very clearly not the ending that could have been intended for this material because it makes absolutely no sense when the rest of the film is taken into account. It’s not that it’s poorly executed, I guess, but it’s definitely tacked on.
On the Blu-Ray there are a pair of alternate endings and some necessary deleted scenes. One of the alternate endings is about two and a half minutes long and works better. One of them is almost ten minutes long and is the best ending. Either one would necessitate watching the deleted scenes for them to have the best impact. Going back and scanning through these supplemental materials is eye opening because it shows the difference between an okay film and one that could have been genuinely great. Without giving too much away, I’ll just say that the deleted stuff hints at a much gutsier film that actually had a message and dared to pull an ending that no one would have seen coming. Sadly, someone involved with this production at the studio or money level must have seen it and said “You’ll never be able to sell this film if this is your ending.” Then again, the alternate ending probably would have given people more to talk about and built up sufficient word of mouth for the film.
Whatever, I’m not a studio executive, so maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about when it comes down to discussion of what will and what won’t make money. At any rate, it’s worth revisiting Sabotage on Blu-Ray. It’s nowhere near as bad as the critical drubbing it got in the states earlier this spring and even more worth it to get a look at what Ayer probably wanted the film to be in the first place. It could have been better. It’s still quite entertaining. (Andrew Parker)