Director: Andrew Davis
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Elias Koteas, Francesca Neri, Cliff Curtis, John Leguizamo, John Turturro
MPAA Rating: (for violence and some language)
Running Time: 1:49
Release Date: 2/8/02
Review by Mark Dujsik
What could be the most controversial movie of the year has arrived. It’s been drawing criticism even before its release, and the reasons are perfectly valid. The movie is Collateral Damage, the newest Arnold Schwarzenegger action thriller. The story revolves around terrorism, and it features a few failed and successful attacks on American soil. The movie was completed before September 11 and was originally intended for an early October 2001 release, but the filmmakers wisely decided to delay the release for four months. This could have been a reprehensible disaster, but the now extremely sensitive content is treated with much respect and responsibility for a Hollywood action thriller. Whether or not it is the result of post-9/11 tinkering is unimportant. The movie has no added level of profundity; it is still typical escapist entertainment. However, it is a well-made thriller with a certain level of intelligence and non-reactionary morality.
Schwarzenegger plays Gordon Brewer, a dedicated Los Angeles firefighter with a wife, Anne (Lindsay Frost), and young son, Matt (Ethan Dampf). One day, the family plans to meet at a plaza, at the same time a prominent ambassador to Colombia happens to be arriving. A terrorist known as "El Lobo" (Cliff Curtis) has stolen an LAPD motorcycle and rigged it with an explosive device with the intent of killing the ambassador. The assassination attempt fails, but many are injured and some killed, including Anne and Matt. Brewer saw "El Lobo" disguised as a policeman shortly before the explosion, and the FBI and CIA, including Agent Brandt (Elias Koteas), involve Brewer in the investigation and promise to capture the elusive terrorist. Tensions escalate, a videotape sent by "El Lobo" details his anger against the United States’ action in the Colombian civil war, and a Congressional intelligence committee determines that the CIA’s involvement in Colombia, led by Brandt, must stop. The official hunt for "El Lobo" is over, but Brewer is steadfast to avenge the deaths of his wife and child and goes to Colombia on his own to find the murderer.
The vengeance motif could have turned the movie into a hate-filled exploitation with no place in today’s society, but the screenplay by David and Peter Griffiths allows Brewer to have a revelation. The urge to avenge only plays out to provide Brewer the motive to find "El Lobo," and he even creates a few explosions of his own to wreak havoc on the terrorist’s cocaine industry and guerrilla army. He eventually realizes that such actions are just as unjust as the terrorist’s, but whether or not his desire to kill "El Lobo" has subsided is unclear. Either way, the movie makes the wise decision in showing that Brewer’s impulsive, irrational actions are highly destructive. The script is also a bit daring in making the statement that perhaps military actions in foreign countries do help stir hatred and violence. In one important scene, an American helicopter is shown infiltrating the guerrillas’ base and firing upon innocents. The slaughter is meant to mirror the bombing in the opening of the film, and the movie is better for the subtle (in that it’s forgotten later) but bold statement against the military. The central theme of the movie often seems to be a pessimistic "trust no one."
Highlighting the film are a series of action sequences that at times defy logic and physical laws but, at the hands of director Andrew Davis, are effective nonetheless. Brewer is on the run for a good part of the movie, which leads him through a few chases. In particular is one scene that sends him down a roaring river where at the end lays a lofty waterfall. The stunt harks back to Davis’ The Fugitive and raises the question, how’d he live through that? A few others make us wonder similarly. How exactly does a man slide down elevator cables, crash into the car, and escape virtually unharmed? Do we still believe that someone can outrace a fireball on foot? Implausibility is a common thread in most action movies; excitement is not. This delivers both. Schwarzenegger is still a competent action hero, and for some reason after so many years of doing things like this, we believe him here. Of course, the movie also features a few explosions. The first is disquieting; we see the violent effect and the grisly aftermath. The rest are chiefly caused by Brewer, but the script is smart enough to give us reason to believe his capabilities at making such elaborate devices—he was previously on the arson squad.
When all is said and done, Collateral Damage, despite the heightened awareness and sensitivity surrounding any portrayal or mention of terrorism in entertainment, works. The action scenes are well done, and the movie avoids a visceral, reactionary sensibility that would have made it reproachable. I watched and enjoyed it as much as I could.
Copyright © 2002 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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