Well this was a surprise.
After being grabbed by the trailer and its use of the really, really good Ed Sheeran/Devlin version of All Along The Watchtower, I had an urge to go see this film.
And I was expecting something mediocre, not great. A standard action comedy film.
And I was surprised.
This film was a tightly made, stylish action film. It's also really funny, mainly thanks to both a crackling script by Blake Masters and the superb interaction between stars Mark Wahlberg and Denzel Washington.
The film is by no means perfect though, let's start with a negatives.
The twisty, turny, everyone could be a villain type film has been done before and it's been done better. It's no shock to learn that the action comes before the plot of this film. Whilst it does make sense, it's hard to keep track of as the film moves at a whip crack pace.
The film doesn't tread any new ground or try to bring anything new to the genre. The action/crime film is a well worn one and this film could cynically be seen as simply throwing together a crazy white guy (Walhberg) and a smooth black guy (Washington) like many films (e.g Lethal Weapon) have done before.
I like Paula Patton. I really do. She's capable of being not only a good actress but a great female action star (see Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol for point 2). In this film however, she is given surprisingly little to do. Her character appears in a lot of scenes and she has quite a few lines but the character never has any weight behind her. She's there as almost nothing other than a plot device rather than a fleshed out character.
But those are literally the only complaints I can raise against this film. The rest of the review is waxing fantastic about the great points of the film, which far outnumber the negatives.
It's super slick. The dialogue between the two leads is some of the best I've heard for ages. It crackles along, aided by the great acting which I'll move onto shortly. Besides the two leads, the male peripheral characters are great too. I've never seen Bill Paxton do menacing so well, seriously. His character has a single mindedness and a methodology which seems brutally at odds with the comedic side of the film. Edward James Olmos brings a lot more to a thinly written character than you would expect, his character has a weary, exhausted edge to him. James Marsden is also great as a slimy navy officer.
The lead actors:
Wahberg and Denzel have such good fun together and the film pushes hard to get as much fun and comedy out of the two of them as possible as there isn't much comedy found anywhere else in the film. They work so well off each other that you really want to see them partner up in another film.
The film feels great. The action is wonderfully shot, not quite as poetic or balletic as John Woo or Antoine Fuqua but it's incredible to watch. The action scenes have a gritty nature behind the flashy look which means that it's not all slow motion gunplay without the threat to make you care.
The film looks great as well. The scenes in Mexico in particular almost make you rub the back of your neck. It looks so dry, dusty, prickly. It's really quite well done. The colours in the film are very brown, grey or gold, there's very little bright colour in the film.
I've heard reviews saying the film is jarringly violent.
The film is violent, yes. There is a moderate level of gruesome violence on the screen which is at odds with the comedy/action side of the film but it's never 'too much' violence, usually in short, sharp jabs. It never lingers. To the credit of the film makers, the film straddles the line quite well. I laughed so hard at a lot of the screen and winced at others and never once did I feel it had gone too far comedy or too far violence.
I really liked this film. I wasn't expecting much and I got much more than I thought I would.