Colombiana 2011 USA/France
Directed by Olivier Megaton
Screening at UK cinemas
Warning: There are slight spoilers dealing with the earlier scenes of this movie in the following article.
You know, this movie doesn’t seem to be that well liked from what I’ve heard from other people. I’m quite up for a decent action movie though... Akira Kurosawa’s probably my all time favourite action movie director and there are also people like John Frankenheimer who I have a lot of respect for. And, for the most part, I’ve really liked this recent wave of action movies produced and co-written (but not directed) by French auteur Luc Besson such as The Transporter series, Kiss of the Dragon, the Taxi series (with some exceptions), the District 13 series (well, the brilliant first movie anyway) and, of course, the Liam Neeson actioner Taken.
However, I had heard some bad things about Colombiana, especially concerning the silliness of the first twenty minutes or so of the movie which tells the back story of Zoe Soldana’s lead character Cataleya when she was a school girl. So I was somewhat cautious and perhaps even a little cynical when I sat waiting for the lights to dim in the theatre last weekend for this screening.
As it happens, I really needn’t have worried. Colombiana is a pretty solid action vehicle for the excellent Soldana to own in her role (she was great in both Star trek 11 and The Losers too) and I’ve been trying to think of why this movie has had such a negative reaction from some people... with one reviewer even refusing to review it and warning people to not bother watching it as, "it’s not a real movie". Seriously?
I’ve possibly made this point before but I think it bears repeating here... I think the action genre, in particular, seems to have a certain section of its core audience who want to believe that the desperately exhausting athletics and damn near impossible stunts that tend to define these movies at the moment are actually doable in real life and that just a couple of minutes of the intense physical prowess on display wouldn’t turn even an above average Olympian into a shivering heap on the floor. They talk about films like, for instance, The Transporter and Charlies Angels 2: Full Throttle (both excellent action movies) as though they should be more grounded in reality... and dismiss anything remotely over-the-top in the fabric of these films, even though most of the films they do embrace have an equal “silliness factor” in them*... just maybe presented in a less in-your-face and, dare I say it for the action genre, more subtle manner?
Films like The Transporter, Crank, Charlies Angels, Machete and a whole host of others dare to push the legacy left by such great stunt-actors as Douglas Fairbanks in the spirit of having fun and not taking themselves to seriously, and in my book that’s a very valid and often refreshing area to take a movie into. These films have reached a point, not dissimilar to the horror genre which tends to have less complicated rules and trappings, where they can revel in their own silliness and actually use these qualities to enhance the on-screen thrills in a way which earlier stereotypes of their genre wouldn’t have had the confidence to do.
In defence of Colombiana, it’s not as over the top as some of those movies mentioned above and, for the life of me, I really can’t work out where the problem lies for some people. I loved the opening sequence, especially the “surprise vomit scene” which actually did make a few of the members of the audience respond in a vocal manner.
I also loved Zoe Soldana’s first scene as Cataleya, which is featured in the trailer. Her turn as a very drunk driver so she can get put in jail with the person she is gunning for is “really epic drunk playing.” I tip my hat to her once again. This sequence is all pretty cool as she escapes from her cell, revenge-assassinates her target and then returns to her cell so she can be released on bail the next morning in her false identity. However, there is a bit of a stupid mistake in this sequence, with all deference to this film’s detractors, in that to get to this guys cell she temporarily disables the fan in a ventilating shaft so she can get through (hey, at least this film even acknowledges that such unlikely crawlspaces are blocked with machinery). Unfortunately, this fan is set spinning again just as she gets through... as a suspense sequence that really wasn’t working for me to be honest. However, when she has to make a quick exit from the cell in question, she goes right back through the ventilation shaft again... but this time it’s not been in any way disabled (and nor could it have been). Bit of a clunker that.
Back on the plus side, the editing during the action sequences in no way renders the narrative incoherent and it’s good to see that in this one, at least, the editing didn’t get in the way... although I have to say that some of the unnecessarily fast edits and short shot times in the non-action sections were a little less palatable to my eyes.
As I was watching this movie I realised how the story for this one must have developed because, without those opening childhood scenes thrown into the mix, this film could easily have been the follow up to Leon (aka The Professional) in that the central character is easily the same character that Natalie Portman’s Mathilda would have grown into... with the very same “special set of skills”, to quote another Besson produced action movie, to her name. It wouldn’t surprise me if this script started off life as the Leon 2 project that Besson was regularly courting Portman for a return to the character in. I hope that, due to the fact that this movie has now been made, the idea of a sequel to Besson’s classic movie and the rich promises found therein, are still able to come to some fruition at a later date. I’ll be in the line for my ticket.
At the end of the day, Colombiana is a good turn-your-brain-off (or in my case, leave your brain off) action movie and, while the characters lack a certain depth and subtlety (in line with characters in other movies made in this manner) there’s more than enough to keep you interested all the way through. If you like your action movies... this probably won’t rock your world but it won’t leave you feeling cheated anyway. And Zoe Saldana’s energy charged acting style is kinda interesting to watch too... she’s got a certain on-screen something and I can’t quite put my finger on what that something actually is at the moment. Maybe someone here can give me a nudge in the right direction?
*Schwarzenneger outrunning a small nuclear explosion in Predator, for instance.