It’s happened. Arnold Schwarzenegger has played a substantial role in a film that isn’t just an Arnold Schwarzenegger star vehicle. Sabotage is a violent action crime thriller about a team of hard bastards who sort-of work for the police wiping out drug cartels. When $10,000,000 goes missing after a raid, the team are suspects. But it’s not just internal affairs they’re under fire from, as they are picked off one by one…
An Arnold Schwarzenegger movie that takes itself seriously? That sounds like a recipe for disaster. It didn’t work in the double whammy of disappointment that was Escape Plan, and the much better The Last Stand opted for light and humorous throughout, so going for a generally serious crime movie seemed like a bad idea. But Arnie delivers the goods, with a commitment to his role as team leader Breacher we haven’t seen from him in years.
He seems to have realised that relying on star power and camp silliness won’t cut it nowadays, and gives a performance that at times shows signs of subtlety and emotion, almost like he was acting. I expected many things from this movie, but I didn’t expect that.
Maybe new Austrian on the block Christoph Waltz has made him up his game, or maybe he didn’t want to be outshone by the solid supporting cast of Sam Worthington, Olivia Williams and Terence Howard. Williams is excellent as a tough-as-nails detective, alongside a transformative performance from Worthington, who must be wondering what he has to do to become an A lister.
The group of blokes – and alcoholic woman Lizzy (Mireille Enos) – are the only thing about this film that feel like an 80s throwback. They take burly masculinity to the extreme, and are utterly vulgar throughout. In recent years, action has been dominated by pretty boys who bulk up for their parts; actors like Christian Bale, Jake Gyllenhaal and Matt Damon. But Sabotage opts for gnarly, gruesome and utterly unattractive meat heads, like an unfamous Expendables.
At times they give the film a rather unpleasant feel, and its dated representation of hyper masculinity mean this really is one for the boys. The crime/thriller plot didn’t need this to work, and the whole film could be improved by softening things up a bit.
But it moves along at a reasonable pace, and is intriguing enough to keep things going. It doesn’t stand up to prolonged thought, which is more of a problem than if it was a piece of campy fun, but it doesn’t really matter. Is this going to be a jewel in Schwarzenegger’s crown? No. But it shows he’s not just having another stab at acting, he’s having another punch, kick and shoot at it as well.