ACTS OF VIOLENCE
Director: Brett Donowho
Cast: Cole Hauser, Shawn Ashmore, Bruce Willis, Ashton Holmes, Melissa Bolona, Sean Brosnan, Mike Epps, Sophia Bush, Tiffany Brouwer
MPAA Rating: (for violence, language throughout, sexuality/nudity and drug material)
Running Time: 1:26
Release Date: 1/12/18 (limited)
Review by Mark Dujsik | January 11, 2018
In the worldview of Acts of Violence, there is nothing good or decent or right, except for force. It depends, of course, upon who's yielding that force and against whom the person is yielding it. It's a movie of supposed moral certainty, although that certainty comes by heavily tipping the scales in the favor of its "good guys." When coupled with that view of violence, it's easy to see this as a politically, philosophically, and morally corrupt movie.
It's cheap and lazy, too, which makes it more difficult to see much of anything beyond the movie's belief system. Here, the good guys are a trio of brothers, two of them Army veterans, and the bad guys are a gang of sex slavers and drug dealers. The police are seen as a burden, until a cop or two figure out that, under the story's extreme circumstances, the law is meaningless. The only right response is to take justice into one's own hands.
People in this movie's world are either men of action or victims. There's no in between. The only variation is whether the men of action—and they're always men in this movie—are doing good or evil.
If the men of action are always men here, it should come as little surprise that all of the victims in Nicolas Aaron Mezzanatto's screenplay are women. One supposes that an attitude of misogyny means little compared to the movie's fascistic outlook, but it's worth mentioning, if only because the two ideas seem inextricably linked within this story.
The heroes are brothers Deklan (Cole Hauser), Brandon (Shawn Ashmore), and Roman (Ashton Holmes). The first two are the veterans, and Roman is not, which means the movie portrays him as a whiny, sniveling coward—until the moment that he picks up a pistol and learns the proper way to draw his weapon. Deklan's first appearance begins the story, as he meets with a VA therapist (played by David Vegh) who seems disinterested and dismissive of Deklan's inability to acclimate himself to the civilian world. It's the first of many loaded scenes here, and all of them are ultimately loaded toward assuming that violence is the only way that people can define themselves in society.
The plot involves the abduction of Roman's fiancée Mia (Melissa Bolona), who has been like a sister to the other brothers since she was a teenager, at her bachelorette party. Roman and Brandon are at a strip club at the time, after Mia insists that Roman should "go look at some naked women." Yes, there's something hypocritical about the juxtaposition of this sequence's objectification of women and the plot's core element of the illegal sex trade. If there's one thing that such ugly-minded movies always seem to do well, though, it's unwittingly indulging in overt hypocrisy.
The bad guys are Max (Mike Epps) and a couple of his goons. The three brothers begin looking for Mia and hunting down the various henchmen in the sex/drugs operation. Meanwhile, a disillusioned police detective named James Avery (Bruce Willis, apparently taking advantage of a slow weekend to shoot his limited scenes and showing about as much effort) warns the brothers about their extralegal activities. He quietly agrees with their methods.
What we get from this setup should be obvious. There are multiple dull firefights, connected by a thin plot that moves from one place to another with as little rationale as possible. There are plenty of scenes of women being drugged, beaten, tortured, or coerced or forced into sex without their consent, and there's one scene of a woman being burned alive for trying to escape.
One can almost hear Mezzanatto and director Brett Donowho arguing that the movie doesn't show any outright hatred of women, because, actually, it's all about how bad it is that women are treated this way. If that's the argument, we can point to the strip club scene. We also can point to a scene late in the movie, when the naked body of one of those victims is put on display for a long series of close-up shots in the shower. More to the point, we could assert that the women here do only exist as victims.
It's a cruel and ugly movie, possessing a warped political and philosophical foundation. For all of its self-proclaimed moral conviction, Acts of Violence offers a mostly nihilistic view of the world, because such a world, devoid of any meaning, is the only place where these ideas could even be entertained.
Copyright © 2018 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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