Sabotage (2014, David Ayer)

For this film-by-film look at the career of Arnold Schwarzenegger, I’ve been watching his movies in a random order and jotting down a few thoughts. 

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Watched: 14 September 2019
Format: Channel 5 showed it on 7 February 2019, so I took a recording.
Seen before? No.

Review: Arnie’s back as an 1980s-style action hero! Specifically, he’s the tough, respected leader of a squad of DEA agents who split their time between going undercover, bashing down doors while firing machine guns, and bickering like children. The fact Schwarzenegger was by now in his mid 60s has a consequence or two. You have to ignore the issue that he’s too old to be an active agent out in the field, but his age does help with the weight on the character’s shoulders. John ‘Breacher’ Wharton is a man mourning his wife and son, who a few months before were sadistically murdered by Mexican drug lords. 

The exciting incident of the plot comes early. We see Breacher and his team storm a drug kingpin’s mansion. They find an enormous stack of cash in the basement… and promptly siphon off a few million for themselves, hiding it in the sewerage system. The sequence is crass – lots of swearing, macho bravado, gunplay and punch-ups – but it’s also quite slick and some fun. This is typical of the entire film, actually. It’s not great, but it is watchable in a rough-round-the-edges way. However, when the team later return to collect their skim, the money has vanished and we’re then thrown into a paranoiac mystery story.

As things develop, members of the team are killed in brutal ways by an unseen assassin, and this draws the attention of investigators played by Olivia Williams and Lost’s Harold Perrineau. They feel like they’re on secondment from their own HBO cop show; they have nicely written banter and an everyday, cynical attitude. Williams’s Caroline Brentwood soon begins to put the clues together and also forms a bond with Breacher.

All this gives Arnie a tad more acting to do than is usual. He’s grieving, he’s bitter, he’s world-weary. He leads his team like a loving father who’s not adverse to showing his anger. He has a crewcut and tattoos. The gang includes Mireille Enos as a livewire agent hooked on drugs herself, as well as Josh Holloway (also from Lost), Terrence Howard (Iron Man), and Sam Worthington (who, coincidentally, was the star of the only Terminator film that Schwarzenegger skipped). The characters have the feel of old friends and their childish name-calling reminds you of similar gangs in films like Aliens and the pre-heist scenes of Reservoir Dogs. (Caveat: Sabotage is nowhere near the overall class of those movies!)

You could argue that the story is about the hypocrisy of law enforcement, about the breakdown of trust within a team, or about how far a broken man is willing to go. But in truth, it’s a balls-to-the-wall exploitation movie and it makes no apology for that. It’s like a Tony Scott thriller done with less money, less glamour and a lot more horror-movie violence. Surprisingly entertaining.

Six sensible shoes out of 10

Next: The Long Goodbye

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