CONS: I’m not completely convinced it totally pulled off the bold third-act move. I’m almost positive I wasn’t supposed to laugh when the love scene started, but laugh I did. The premise, while satirical, was a little hard to swallow at times.
THINGS I LIKED: You don’t usually see a ‘mainstream’ movie where the guy you’re meant to root for removes a man’s artificial liver from his still living body in the opening scene. Jude Law and Forrest Whitaker’s boss wasn’t a flashy role, but was played perfectly (by Liev Schreiber). The music.
NITPICKS: An electric typewriter in that time? Really? Alice Braga is a beautiful woman, but I’d still think twice about getting naked on that crack-house mattress.
Repo Men is based on the novel The Repossession Mambo, by Eric Garcia. I haven’t read the book and so I can’t compare them, but as a movie my feeling was that it was pretty good, but will probably only appeal to a smallish audience. I know this means death in the world of any mainstream work of art, and I understand why (no one likes to sink millions of dollars into a project with only a ‘smallish’ audience) but I wish it wasn’t the case. A lot of people didn’t like Repo Men as much as I did. It wasn’t perfect by any stretch, but I thought it had a lot going for it. Part of the problem, I think, is the gore. This isn’t what I might call ‘fun’ gore…like, Total Recall gore where bad guys might get their arms severed in the middle of some over-the-top action sequence but hey, they were kind of dicks and they deserved it anyway. An audience will cheer for gore like that. Instead imagine a home invasion where the invader is breaking in legally, and rather that just shoot or stab the homeowner he stuns him with a tazer then proceeds to slowly surgically remove his organs while his wife looks helplessly on. Now imagine the invader is the hero of the story. It’s that kind of gore. I imagine a lot of people decided the movie wasn’t for them before the first scene was over. My wife was one of them.
I was a little on the fence myself only because I wasn’t quite sure how satirical the movie intended to be at first. The crux of the story is that in this future world some evil mega corporation (there’s always one…) is getting rich at the little guy’s expense. This time, it’s life-saving prosthetic organs. The problem is that these things cost like a half-million dollars a pop. Rather than restrict their clientele to the uber-rich, they put people who can’t afford them on payment plans. They actually (in what brings to mind credit card companies, and the sub-prime mortgage debacle) put people on these plans knowing damned well they won’t ever be able to pay them off in full. They basically soak as much cash as they can from these people, then when they finally run out of options and the payments stop, they send Jude Law and Forrest Witaker over to the house to take the organ back.
The fact that this is legal in the world where this story takes place cements it in satire, at least it did for me. This wasn’t a sinister corporate secret that had to be uncovered, it was just life as the people of that world knew it. This is not real life, or any world in which we will ever live – legalized murder on that scale and in that context will never happen in this country, or probably any country. This is satire – some weird, cautionary alternate universe where it does happen. I like ‘what if’ stories, so it didn’t bother me here. I don’t mind gore in movies either, so that didn’t bother me either. That bump/bald spot on the side of Jude Law’s buzz-cut head bothered me a little, but it wasn’t a dealbreaker.
This is a very weird film. As a viewer, you are presented with a protagonist who does these repossessions for a living. You are presented with his best friend and coworker, who he knew from when they fought together in an unspecified war who in his own way feels quite warmly toward him. You are presented with a band of these ‘repo men’ who are shown to have a camaraderie similar to policemen or firefighters…they have families, they barbecue together, they have kids to worry about and bills to pay. They joke about the job, and the pleading and suffering of the people whose organs they reclaim. When Jude Law’s character himself ends up with a prosthetic heart he can’t pay for, his best friend is conflicted, confused and worried, not sure if he will have to, or be able to, repossess the organ if told to do so.
The tables being turned on Jude Law is fairly predictable. The movie is fairly predictable, but takes a bizarre tone shift around the third act. It turns out at the end there is a reason for this, but since you don’t know that for sure going in, it’s hard to know what to make of it. It heads down a fairly ridiculous action avenue, with Jude Law knife-fighting soldiers, security guards, and one guy that looked like he might have been the CEO. At one point he actually drops his gun, reaches behind his back to grab two knives out of sheathes tucked in the back of some leather harness he had on that I think only exists as a movie prop. Brains get blown out, throats get slashed, blood sprays everywhere, at one point a hacksaw gets involved…it’s like all of a sudden it turned into a different movie. Later, you realize the director was going for something specific, but the problem is this – it is not weird at all for Hollywood to turn the third act of almost any film into a ridiculous action sequence that you stop giving a shit about three minutes in. So, as a viewer your first thought isn’t ‘huh, I wonder where he’s going with this’, your first thought is ‘here we go again’. By the time I realized what they had in mind, I had already tuned out of the standard Hollywood schlock. I tuned back in afterwards, going back over the third act in its new context and I thought that was actually pretty neat…yet at the same time, I had already spent a while being annoyed.
How does one fix this? I don’t know. Maybe one doesn’t. Maybe the best I can do is say that there is a twist you may or may not see coming (you are given a concrete clue early on, when a rule Jude Law’s character establish appears to be broken…and is, though again, I wasn’t sure at first whether or not this was just typical Hollywood carelessness). The third act isn’t exactly what is seems…yet even so, it does happen, so there you have it for whatever it’s worth.
BOTTOM LINE: I liked it, but I didn’t love it. If you can get past (or revel in) the dark themes and the gore, you may like it too. I can see why it didn’t do very well, but I think it has some merits. Worth a rental if you like gritty sci-fi and don’t mind suspending your disbelief.