Sometimes, the critics are just wrong. This week, we’re bringing Miguel Sapochnik’s Repo Men back from the dead.
Repo Men (2010)
Dir: Miguel Sapochnik
Starring: Jude Law, Forest Whitaker, Liev Schreiber, Alice Braga, Carice van Houten
IMDb rating: 6.3
Metacritic rating: 32
Jude Law is unremarkable. He is the magnolia of Hollywood – put him in any room of the house of film, and he won’t look out of place, but he won’t stand out either. What’s more, the action thriller is one of the easiest genres to mock, so things don’t look good for Repo Men. Often, these are action films trying too hard to be dark/edgy, or thrillers without the balls to be pure suspense, worried that the audience will lose interest without exploding helicopters. To its credit, Repo Men finds a fairly good balance. And the balance is what I’m praising (though the action itself is largely forgettable, aside from one ludicrous scene near the end that should bring a grin).
This is not torture porn – these are blood-stained men working for a blood-stained, amoral business that values profit over human life
In the near, slightly dystopian future, perfect artificial organs are available. And damn expensive. They can be purchased in full, but at an inhibitively high price, so most people are forced to resort to a draconian loans system. You don’t make a few payments on time, the repo men – of which protagonist Remy (Jude Law) and his buddy Jake (Forest Whitaker) are examples – come cut the ‘artiforg’ out and leave you to die. Two men doing their job, however violent and morally questionable, is not grounds for a movie though, so the necessary complication arises when Remy is near-fatally injured by a defaulted customer and given an artificial heart. Now empathetic with the people he hunts, Remy cannot do his job properly and, falling behind on his payments, goes on the run.
Repo Men’s dystopia is nicely realised without being excessive. Yes, there are sterile, soulless corporate buildings and slum-like hideouts of the runaways, but there are also middle-class apartments and suburbs, signs of a world outside the main characters’ struggle. A few critics commented on the film’s goriness, but this is not excessive torture porn; the liberal innards are there to build the world and the characters. These are blood-stained men working for a blood-stained, amoral business that values profit over human life.
Repo Men is also to be admired for its restraint. The film can be read as a comment on private medical care, aggressive lending culture or the devaluing of human life in general. It could have easily been made into a panegyric against any of these, but instead of bashing you across the head with its ideals, the film’s set-up simply suggests these issues and the actions of the characters shows that no good comes of any of them. It never feels like ideals are coming before narrative, which is how ‘message’ movies should be. I’m not entirely sure Repo Men is even that interested in having a message.
Repo Men can be read as a comment on private medical care, aggressive lending culture or the devaluing of human life in general
Jude Law is unremarkable in Repo Men. Likewise, Alice Braga is nothing more than adequate as the female lead/love interest, though Forest Whitaker does a very good ‘conflicted thug’ – a simple man who has never asked any questions having to deal with his stable world suddenly becoming more complicated – and Liev Schreiber is fun as the put-upon asshole boss. But there is precisely one reason to watch Repo Men: the ending. One top reviewer’s quote on Rotten Tomatoes is, “One of the worst endings of any film, ever. Seriously. Ever.” There are seven comments, some agreeing, some vehemently arguing the opposite. Thing is, both are valid.
On the one hand, the ending is brilliant, cleverly playing with our expectations of the standard Hollywood third act. On the other, narratively it makes you feel cheated. Some viewers may be able to separate their cold, critical sides from their soft emotional side that wants a happy ending, even though they’re predictable and cliché. I am not one of them. I still don’t quite know what to think of Repo Men. This is why I recommend it. Discounting art cinema, it is unusual for even films much better than this to really make you think. Yet Repo Men does such a good job that months later I’m still unsure what to make of that ending.
All images: Universal