Wednesday 25 April 2012
That Touch Of Clink
Lockout France 2012
Directed by James Mather & Stephen St. Leger
Playing at UK cinemas now
Okay... so movies set in prison are not usually my kind of thing but the title of this film is the least interesting thing about it and misleading in that it’s really not about prison... it’s just set in one. I saw this off the back of seeing a trailer for it in the cinema and it looked to me more like an action movie in the style of something like Escape From New York than a dyed in the wool prison movie... and it helped, of course, that it turns out that the prison is in space.
Now, the basic premise does share a modicum of similarity with the aforementioned John Carpenter classic, in that a man sentenced to go to this very prison has to go in and rescue the President’s daughter. That man is Snow (played by Guy Pearce from Neighbours) and the girl is Emilie (played by Maggie Grace, who played the dopey character in Lost). Right from the outset, though, this film establishes itself as a quality action product and not the dull prison-riot in space movie you might expect from it.
The opening flashback action sequences are pure “James Bond in the future” as we see the last 10 minutes of Guy Pierce in action as a secret agent on a mission which has just gone wrong. After an awesome fist/gun fight with a bunch of generic “bad guys”, his secret service friend is killed and he is given possession of what Hitchcock would have called a McGuffin (a term I hate but use here for simplicity and clarity). Suddenly, since it looks like Snow has killed his friend, his own people are gunning for him. He has to get a “briefcase” to his partner while avoiding everyone who is out to get him. He does so but is caught and sentenced to be imprisoned in “suspended animation” on a prison satellite for 30 years. But when the presidents daughter (who has gone to see just how well the prisoners in this place are faring) gets caught in a “break out” accidentally caused by the stupidity of one of her assistants, she and some of the staff of the prison suddenly become bargaining chips for the inmates who have all been let out of stasis and are very much running the asylum. Since half of them are suffering from either some kind of psychosis from the “suspended animation” techniques employed or have their own twisted, damaged outlook on life... running the asylum is exactly what it turns out to be. There are some decidedly unstable people in charge of things now.
Enter Snow (dropped in via a spacesuit and entering through an airlock) who is sent in by his own people to get the girl out and who agrees to do this because he is told by a friend that his partner Mace, who had possession of “the briefcase”, is now one of the prisoners.
That’s pretty much the set up and its about as much as I’m going to reveal here story wise. Now let me tell you about the film itself...
Well... it’s pretty great actually. As I said, it starts off with a James Bondesque action sequence including a very fast bike/car chase where the stock has been either treated in a strange manner or, as I suspect, there’s much more CGI going on in the chase than my mind could comfortably comprehend. Somethings been done to it and it looks kinda interesting and I haven’t seen anything quite like this short sequence done before on film that I can recall... for all I know, all the actors in this sequence were CGI too. There’s some kind of interesting texture or shake to those speed shots which give it a very unreal quality.
Guy Pearce is really having fun with this role. He takes the cliché of the standard “Bondian quip” up to the level of constant banter where pretty much almost every sentence out of his mouth throughout the whole movie is a playful joke or dig at something. You might think this couldn’t work or would dilute the script down to nothing but a parody of itself but, actually, Pearce manages to elevate this role into something extremely entertaining without losing the audiences trust in the character. Despite his constant jokes, you always feel that this guy can be extremely dangerous and is the ideal person suited to the role of getting Emilie out of harms way. With a lot of people I might say they were just overacting and got lucky... but I know Pearce from other movies and he’s a pretty talented actor. I trust the actor to know what he’s doing by delivering the lines in the very stylistic way he does in this movie (it’s really over the top) and he comes through in this one with shining colours. Also, when you find out his first name at the end of the movie and realise which Hollywood “film star” he’s named after, this larger than life style of acting makes perfect sense for the character.
All the acting is good here though... with special mention of Maggie Grace who also has a certain integrity to her character which you can trust and take to the bank. She’s a character who is deliberately stereotyped by other characters just so the audience can see she’s not that person at all and sympathise with her... works really well. Lot of respect for her in this one.
It doesn’t hurt, either, that there are two main villains in this one who are such a great pair of movie villain clichés but who play their roles really well and convincingly... and by that I mean one plays the role really nastily and out of control while the other plays the role really nastily and completely in control. Yes, you guessed it... we have two brothers who are inmates here and one is the loose cannon psychotic who just does whatever he wants and gets everyone, including his own people, into trouble... while the older brother is the controlling influence (as much as he can be) but who is just as nasty as his brother if you don’t do what he says. Like I said, typical set up and the two actors here play it beautifully. You’ll feel pretty anxious when they’re around.
Although the movie is filmed in English, this one’s actually produced by famous director/producer Luc Besson. I don’t know if he had much to do with the actual way this one was shot, designed and edited but, if he did, then it just lends credence to the fact that the French really know how to make a sci-fi/actioner (it’s a bit of a Western too) brimming over with coolness. Everything works really well in this one... the suspense scenes work well because the performances are so intense and the action scenes are actually edited in such a way that you can actually tell what’s going on for once. Hooray for that. So many movies these days are edited so aggressively that you just can’t follow the geography of the action and work out what’s going on. I often wonder if that’s because the crew sent to shoot the action work on some of these things just don’t know enough to get the right amount of coverage for the shots that are required. This one you should have no problem with. The action manages to be raw and aggressive without losing the audience comprehension. Perfectly put together.
So okay... the chemistry between all the leads is good. The acting’s pretty good. The action, editing and even the music is all good too. Besson eschews his normal techno sound for a good solid, almost John Barryesque score by composer Alexandre Azaria and it works really well. Azaria is, of course, no stranger to composing scores for films produced by Besson, seeing as he provided some pretty good scores for the second and third movies in The Transporter series.
The story, too, is kinda okay although, to be fair, you will figure out who’s really behind things by the halfway mark and you’ll just be waiting for Snow to confront that character when the inevitable scene comes near the end. You’ll also, I suspect, have figured out that the main characters are being told the location of “the briefcase” in a cryptic way long before anyone on screen realises (about half an hour before probably)... so that’s not great.
However, some slight weaknesses in the writing are more than compensated for by what surprised me as being a really well oiled action fest of a movie. Plenty of “blood n’ thunder” in this one, followed promptly by their mates “rough n’ tumble”, means that the movie never gets boring and though, it’s true, the characters are thinly drawn stereotypes for the most part... you will probably really like them and accept them as people you can get happily involved with for an hour and a half. A refreshingly well directed acting piece which I would love to see “sequalised” at some point. A Snow franchise would be more than welcomed by me if the craftsmanship on display is as good as it is on this one. If you’re into science-fiction movies or action movies or, heck, even Western movies... you might like to take a look at this one before it disappears.