A plethora of issues need to be addressed about Repo Men before actually discussing Repo Men. Well, really just three issues, so maybe it’s not a “plethora,” but it’s still much more than normal, let us not anger El Guapo with improper word use. First, all issues with Repo! The Genetic Opera are completely covered here and here by Repo!’s co-writer/creator Terrance Zdunich from his point of view. Second, Repo Men has absolutely no connection or affiliation with the 1984 Emilio Estevez classic Repo Man. Third, (SMALL SPOILER) the filmmakers behind Repo Men are fully aware of the similarities to the Monty Python’s The Meaning Of Life “liver donor” segment, going so far as to include a shot of the sketch itself in the film. Good. Everything out of the way? Let’s not speak of these things any further. Well, except…
Not to anger genius/legend John Cleese, but Meaning Of Life is unquestionably my favorite Python film. Blasphemy you say? Sure, and it’s an opinion that often must be defended in everyday life, an argument that usually ends with “It’s not like I don’t love all the other Python flicks as well, leave me alone.” When I saw the first trailer for Repo Men the very first thought in my mind was the possible occurrence of a John Cleese or Terry Gilliam cameo. Little did I know that Repo Men would owe more to Meaning Of Life in tone than in concept. If you haven’t seen it, the “liver donor” segment involves John Cleese and Graham Chapman as liver-collectors, who go from home to home, and nonchalantly collect livers from people that signed up for a liver donor card. So the skit is basically Chapman violently ripping out the liver of Terry Gilliam’s Rastafarian-Jewish character, blood spurting and screaming in pain, whilst Cleese casually hits on his wife, Terry Jones, who isn’t at all affected by the gruesome murder of her husband happening before her, instead complaining about it as if her husband made one of his normal idiotic day to day decisions. Comedy genius. Simple and direct.
The relationship that Repo Men, the film, wants the audience to have with its two main characters is very much like that Python sketch. It’s very befuddling at first, and as much as I hate to say it, very “refreshing” in such a big studio action/sci-fi flick as this. The tone of the film is almost that of a 1980’s buddy-cop comedy, Jude Law and Forest Whitaker, black and white partners and life long friends that battle the struggle of their jobs together, and relax with cold beer and some laughs after a hard days work. The catch is that they are brutally murdering people, poor people, day to day, by repossessing bio-mechanical organs in which the client has lapsed on their payment. These are the bad guys, and for a healthy chunk of the film, Jude Law’s character is a remorseless killing machine. It’s a risk as well as an art to be able to have characters such as these and yet still handle the tone in such a way that the audience can “laugh” with them. Repo Men pulls it off very effortlessly. One minute you have Law and Whitaker killing innocents, the next you are chuckling at their chum-like banter. It’s like American Pyscho, we laugh with Patrick Bateman in the face of his obvious insanity and bloodlust, however in Repo Men it’s very interesting and welcome to see that in such a huge, mainstream film. Mixing comedy with murderers that you don’t exactly hate is, oddly, a lot of fun. This, of course, brings the Monty Python “liver donor” comparison full circle when there is a short moment where these two Repo Men are sitting in their living room, watching Meaning Of Life, and chuckling to themselves.
On the surface and via the marketing the movie seems like a very straightforward Blade Runner meets a-thousand-other-genres type of flick, which, in a lot of ways, it very much is, but it survives by its sense of humor, and its craftsmanship. It has a muted Minority Report/Blade Runner type of evil-future-corporate landscape setting, one that is only really referenced in the visuals aside from the one corporation we deal with in the movie. Its most obvious element is that of the “what happens if the corrupt system you uphold turns on you” genre, very Logan’s Run, which we’ve seen a gazillion times, but luckily the movie has a bit more happening underneath and even if it is derivative, its still very well made and fun. The system turns on Jude Law’s Remy when an accident in the line of duty causes him to need a heart replacement. He then becomes part of the system, and sympathetic toward others with a similar problem to him, thus making him unable to kill, thus making him poor, thus making him lapse on his artificial-heart payments, thus making the plot.
Aside from one or two over-edited fight scenes, the movie is very appropriately shot and stitched together…drab textures and solid geography and pacing. From what I can tell, this is Miguel Sapochnik’s first major studio directorial effort and a very welcome one at that. Having not read the book, The Repossession Mambo, I don’t know what the tone of the source material is, but the film, while not a comedy, has no qualms about irony or making a joke via freeze frames, or voice over.
In the past I have argued that all action-heroes are actors, but not all actors are action heroes. Here we have two of the best working “actors” in Hollywood throwing the punches, their acting ability is not under scrutiny; however their “punches” might be. Forest Whitaker, while certainly more than an “action” star, has done this type of film before, so no concern there, especially considering how enthusiastically joyful he plays his part. I’ll admit, that even for us Jude Law fans, there is a slight concern that he couldn’t carry an action film. When I think of Law, no offense to him, but I see a tiny guy, a great actor, and someone best suited to drama, comedy, and perhaps some Eddie Izzard-coined films where British people named Sebastian walk into rooms where other British people are arranging matches. It’s a pleasure to report that he not only carries the film, he knocks it out of the park. I thought the site of Gigolo Joe beating people up and slicing out their organs would feel wrong, but instead, I found myself more than entertained while he was brutally slicing and shooting his way through plenty of “bay guys,” looking great (sexy?) while doing so. I mean, Law is no Statham, Stallone, Willis, or Ah-nuld, but he held his own. The great Liev Schreiber rounds out the leading men as the head of the Repo Men’s corporate office, silly New York accent (played for laughs,) asshole-ish demeanor, and all. Seriously though, has Schreiber ever not been class-A great? He’s another case of “why isn’t this guy more famous?”
**************MAJOR SPOILERS START HERE**************
While reviewing Shutter Island most of my time was spent harping on the fact that cinematic twists, MOST of the time, are the lamest possible device a movie can use…especially one involving a dream during sleep, cryogenic stasis, or brain illness or injury. Well Repo Men has a twist, not a huge all encompassing “M. Night is crazy” twist, but a twist none the less. I am going to try my best to defend this twist, while sticking to my guns on my Shutter Island review. Skip over the next paragraph if you don’t need your memory refreshed.
About three quarters of the way through the film Jude Law and Alice Braga’s characters are on the run from the corporation. Law has an artificial heart; Braga’s Beth has almost half of her body comprised of fake organs. There is a rather minor showdown between Whitaker’s Jake and Law’s Remy. Jake, of course, is trying to repossess Remy’s heart, in the face of his life long friendship. During the fight sequence, Jake hits Remy in the head with a huge steel hook, right before getting tasered unconscious by Remy. Remy is then awaken by Beth, and the too of them decide to storm the corporate building, kill anyone in their way, and destroy all the credit files to free everyone on the books. Well, including a truly, truly bad ass Jude Law knife fight, they succeed. They make it to the cliché inner sanctum of organ re-acquisition, the sub-basement of evil, the all-white-décor file storage department. They then realize that the only way to get themselves out of the system is to scan the body parts inside them, which brings about an extremely gory and oddly sexual scene where the two of them slice each other open and stick the scanner module (very similar to one you’d find at a supermarket) inside the each others body. They succeed again, they survive, and then Whitaker and Schreiber enter the room, Whitaker has a change of heart on a dime, kills Schreiber and the three of them blow up what’s left of the evil basement.
Cut to: They are sitting on a beach, Jake, Beth, and Remy, enjoying tropical cocktails and laughing it up like all is well. At this point, some overly anxious people in my theater, assuming the film was over, walked out fully satisfied with the most obvious, cliché ending in history. The screen then glitches with static, you hear voices talking, cut back to that small encounter earlier, Remy is lying on his back in a coma, that huge steel hook actually busted his skull wide open. Paramedic’s from the corporation had him on an artificial neural-net, in which he was dreaming beautiful dreams. He’s been in a coma for the entire end climax of the film, a computer creating his ideal scenario. Movie Ends. Bad guys win.
I walked out of the theater completely baffled as to why I liked the flick so much, especially with a twist. I think I figured out why. Unlike M. Night’s twists, this twist didn’t change the entire film, just about the last 20 or so minutes, it also didn’t change the world they were living in. This wasn’t a twist where they find out that all the organs are actually made by aliens or that they aren’t actually on earth and the whole city is a government experiment on the moon or some crap like that. The world that the movie sets up is true, and the twist doesn’t change that. Secondly, if they edited out the twist, the movie itself would still be a completely formed, albeit clichéd, narrative that makes absolute and total sense. There would be no Vanilla Sky/Shutter Island “why are things all weird for no discernible reason” type of confusion. Remy’s delusion is perfectly comprehensible and finishes out the story (If anyone knows how the book ends, leave a comment about it below.)
Also, the twist take’s a turn, at least in my opinion, towards reality instead of the more fantastic and “Hollywood.” The reality of how things end in real life would be that a human head getting smashed in by a giant piece of metal gets busted open and the hero’s journey ends. This makes the twist almost more welcomed, in that the “fake” Remy-created ending wraps everything up in such a nice little package, especially the sudden and unearned change-of-heart that Whitaker’s character takes. Jake, in the span of literal seconds, after an entire film of being unquestionably devoted to the system of organ repossession, decides he’s on the wrong side and stabs his boss in the neck. It’s awkward to watch him laughing it up on the beach with Law. Remember, the both of these men are effectively mass murderers, Law’s character has somewhat fought for redemption, while Whitaker just did an Anakin Skywalker and said “Ok, I’ll be on your side now.”
So it is nice that the corny, saccharin nature of Jake’s turn from the dark side actually never happened. And sue me, but I love it when the bad guys win, when drab, cold reality wins out over triumphant fantastical Hollywood hegemony. Hollywood endings have their place, but it does get tiring seeing the good guy win, giving the audience what it wants. You got to love a twist like this, ESPECIALLY opposed to Shutter Island since the viewer thinks that their emotional journey is over, relaxing on a tropical beach somewhere, just to strip it away and remind them that life sucks, and not every movie exists to help them escape the reality of their banality filled job at the horse manure processing plant (I’m not sure if those exist.) Some movies want you to know that horse manure processing might be as good as it gets. Those movies aren’t for everyone.
While cliché and derivative, Repo Men is worth a look. Jude can kick some serious gluteus-maximus too, good for him.
Thanks for reading, I’m Bob Rose and you probably (PROBABLY) are not.
4 Responses to “Opinion In A Haystack: REPO MEN”
Leave a Reply