Release Date: 2010
Length: 98 minutes
Director: George Tillman Jr.
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Billy Bob Thornton, Maggie Grace
If I’d thought about it ahead of time, I’d have chosen this movie for this spot in the series deliberately instead of filling it in because it is done and the originally scheduled essay isn’t finished.
Selfishly, I’d like Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson to find a better niche than just being an American version of Jason Statham. Good money in it, I guess. Johnson does have better comedy chops; his sense of timing is pretty good. This movie sure feels like it has aspirations of making him into an actor with more dramatic range. It doesn’t really work. He broods his way through the film in silence; it’s not bad, but doesn’t allow him space to really shine. Johnson isn’t a great actor who can convey complex emotion without words. He’s a good actor who can deliver lines effectively.
It’s not a great movie, but it is a pretty great B-grade revenge flick. It has its moments, to be sure. True moments of real pathos. But it also has a ridiculous subplot with a ludicrous hitman which weakens the whole significantly. It’s hard to convey, especially without spoilers, just how dissonant this hitman subplot is and how disruptive it is to the whole film.
We begin with Johnson being released from prison. He clearly is single-minded in his purpose; a camera pan during the release interview with the warden (Tom Berenger in a small part that suits him right down to the ground) shows us he hears none of the advice being given, but is simply waiting for him to stop talking. As soon as he gets outside, he begins running down the road. Eventually he gets to a car that’s been stashed for him and drives away like a maniac. He arrives at an office building, walks in, finds a man, shoots him dead, leaves without a word, and we’re off.
Billy Bob Thornton comes in as what seems at first to be a cliched cop on the verge of retirement working his last case. We soon learn that he’s not quite so typical. Divorced father of a son who gets bullied for his lack of athleticism, he’s a heroin junkie and keeps trying to horn in on this case. At first, he seems like he’s just looking to go out on a high note, maybe steal a little glory. But as the movie progresses, more and more is revealed about the past and why Johnson is murdering seemingly random people and what Thornton has to do with all of it.
The rest of the cast is mostly B-movie or TV actors, though they’re competent enough. Carla Gugino is an exception, maybe Mike Epps. On the plus side, you’re maybe a little less certain of what will happen to each of them when you don’t know them. The director can probably get away with killing off characters when they’re not played by stars.
While some of it is predictable, the script has a few curveballs. Not big league curves perhaps, but worthy efforts nonetheless. The concluding scene(s) is(are) particularly good, though not perfect. (Stupid hitman.) Be warned, it’s quite violent, and there’s a scene in a strip club (with considerably more justification than they have in a lot of films), and some very unpleasant topics (one of the more minor characters is implied to be a rapist (and murderer?) who preys on teenage girls). But in the end it’s a decent film that ends up thinking harder about revenge than its B-movie peers even if it doesn’t quite escape the Death Wish ghetto.