Wednesday, 21 May 2014


David Ayer’s last film End of Watch was a brilliant, visceral and gripping tale shot in naturalistic style that, despite a disappointingly over the top ending, William Friedkin (French Connection, Exorcist) claimed to be the best cop movie ever made. Therefore Ayer’s return to the screen tackling the awkward gritty issues of America’s war on drugs should be something to celebrate, hopefully as a tense, awkward naturalistic thriller. Then you discover it stars Arnold Schwarzenegger.  

Don’t get me wrong, Schwarzenegger is a Hollywood icon and deservedly so. His eighties action content include some of the most purely entertaining and thrilling films ever made. But here he is astonishingly out of place, playing the leader of an elite, incredibly violent anti-drug squad who try to skim millions of a bust, but which goes missing. This is when people start to die, with  plenty of recriminations, incredibly macho dialogue and violence, lots and lots of violence all set against a background of pure human depravity. Sure, the dialogue is traditional for Arnie, but what is not is the fact that the film, at least to some extent, takes itself seriously in terms of themes and the type of violence depicted. There is torture, abuse and nailing people to the ceiling - in essence it is serious and certainly not fun, something clearly encouraged by the director’s continued flirtation with a minimalist soundtrack and naturalistic stylings. But essentially none of this works because it is anchored by the Governator. Encouraging empathy was never Arnie’s strong point, a fact that the film does pick up on when a character states “they can’t read him”. But unfortunately neither can you, as the actor fails to imbue the necessary emotion to carry the feature.

Worse is the dialogue. Not only are the squad distinguished by nick-names such as Pyro, Grinder and Monster (which make it feel like David Ayer may have been playing a tad too much Call of Duty while writing the screenplay), whenever any of them open their mouths it is to talk about sex, drugs, violence and of course, dick jokes. In the end, they are little more than walking, swearing blood bags awaiting spillage. Although the same might be said of other supporting characters in eighties action, here they are bogged down by a strangely gritty feel that makes them seem both even more unpleasant and unlikable, and remove any possibility of investing in the film. Worse, this language extends beyond the squad to the likes of the usually brilliant Olivia Williams, bizarrely cast and wasted as a murder investigator.

Sabotage is not all bad – Ayer’s visual eye is undeniable and there are the sort of moments peeking above the parapet you would expect from a much better film. The subject matter is interesting and compares somewhat favourably to both Ridley Scott and Oliver Stone in their recent failures The Councillor and Savages. However, with the scripting problems and the cast the film has become so tonally imbalanced that  it capsizes and sinks. 

James Absolon

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