Posts Tagged ‘Sean Pertwee’

From the Hootoo archive. Originally published March 20th 2003:

[Following a review of Far From Heaven.]

Well, after all that rich cinematic fare I was in the mood for something a bit less demanding. So what should fit the bill better than a sci-fi action thriller starring someone like Wales’ own Christian Bale? Pleasingly, just such a movie happened along in the shape of Kurt Wimmer’s Equilibrium.

In the future, society has been reshaped to include the maximum possible number of cliches from old SF movies. All emotion has been outlawed and the population exists in a permanent drugged stupor, rather like Vulcans on valium. Enforcing this new regime are the implausibly named Grammaton Clerics, foremost amongst whose number is the fanatically calm John Preston (Christian Bale, king of the dodgy accent). Preston is shocked (or would be, were it not illegal) to learn that his partner Errol Partridge (Sean Bean, slumming it) is secretly breaking the law and getting all teary and emotional over poems by Yeats (his transgressions no doubt caused by the stress of having such a stupid name), but being a dedicated servant of the state does his duty, letting Sean Bean get an early bath and have a long talk with his agent about the quality of the scripts he gets sent. Bean’s replacement is the ambitious Brandt, played by Taye Diggs from Chicago. But Preston inevitably finds himself questioning the values of the state, particularly after meeting hardened offender Mary (Emily Watson, really slumming it). Can he meet the challenge of bringing about a change in the system? And can Christian Bale meet the challenge of portraying more than one emotion in the same film?

Let’s talk about the good things in Equilibrium first. It’s rather well directed, for one thing, with a good deal of style. The production designs have a sort of brutalist grandeur even if they don’t quite manage to avoid cliche. Some of the action sequences are rather well put together, too. And, fair’s fair, Bale does a pretty reasonable job of portraying a man experiencing an emotional awakening (even if he is, inevitably, more convincing before than after).

But that really is all the film has going for it. Apart from this, what’s not cliched is silly, and what’s not silly is cliched. The list of films Equilibrium rips off seems to roll on forever: Logan’s Run. THX-1138. Fahrenheit 451. Metropolis. 1984. Demolition Man. The Matrix (there’s the most blatant knock-off in history of the lobby sequence from The Matrix, which is saying something). Being derivative isn’t necessarily a crime, but Equilibrium fails to fuse all its influences together in such a way as to establish an identity of its own.

The only even slightly original element to the script is the new martial art of ‘Gun-kata’, which supposedly involves using statistical analysis to predict where the bullets are going to be in a gunfight so the exponent can arrange to be elsewhere at the time. This idea strikes me as a bit bobbins, and the fact that on-screen the practitioners just seem to be vogueing with a gun in each hand does not help its credibility.

Credibility is one of Equilibrium‘s problems throughout, to be honest. Apart from characters with silly names, the script’s attempts to be moving and make serious points are torpedoed by a lack of subtlety (Preston finally turns against the system when it orders him to shoot a cute little puppy!) and some very dubious casting (at one point Bale beats up TV comedian Brian Conley – not that this is a bad thing, of course). The cast, which includes David Hemmings and (all too briefly) Lassie award laureate Sean Pertwee, do their best, but some things can’t be polished. And quite why the supposedly unemotional character played by Taye Diggs spent most of the movie grinning like a loon I could not tell you.

I didn’t really have great hopes for this film going in, but I would have settled for a cheerfully dumb, well-put-together, mid-budget actioneer (something like Bale’s last film, Reign of Fire). But Equilibrium‘s pretensions to worthiness, and its meandering, poorly-paced script, stop it from being even this. It aspires to have a message about the importance of emotions and compassion – but, ironically, I suspect the audience will find it very difficult to care either way.

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From the Hootoo archive. Originally published May 23rd 2002:

 I turned up to watch Neil Marshall’s new movie Dog Soldiers with some misgivings. For one thing, low budget horror movies don’t exactly have a diamond pedigree, especially not the recent British crop. And for another, this has got Sean Pertwee in it; a man who’s CV does not suggest first-rate quality control. But I’m always hoping to be pleasantly surprised and so in I went.

After a bit of scene-setting the story kicks off with a six-man army patrol being dumped in the Scottish highlands to take part in exercises. It’s led by tough but caring Sergeant Wells (Pertwee) and his mate Private Cooper (Kevin McKidd from Trainspotting). While they have a pleasant time yomping through the heather the prospect of a ‘Bad Movie’ looms before the audience as the dialogue is unconvincing and cliched, characterisation consists of a single trait per squaddy, endlessly repeated, and it’s clear the director has watched Predator, Aliens and The Blair Witch Project too many times: big, hairy, howling monsters are on the loose and pretty soon come after our heroes.

But things improve rapidly once they fetch up in a remote cottage with a secretive and ruthless Special Ops officer (Liam Cunningham), who’s in the area on a secret mission, and a comely young zoologist (Emma Cleasby) who claims to know what the things chasing them are: werewolves. While the audience is not shocked, the W-word being all over the poster, the soldiers are. But as the monsters encircle the cottage they’re forced to believe as the battle to survive begins.

Well, I won’t tell you any more of the plot, suffice to say that Evil Dead joins the list of ripped-off movies, along with John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13. Actually, if you’ve seen Assault then you pretty much know the plot of Dog Soldiers already, it owes Carpenter’s film that big a debt. To be fair, there’s a twist near the end that’s original to this film, but it’s not a very good one and blows several large holes in the plot. This is just the most obvious of several problems with the script: several squad members are indistinguishable, there’s a lot of fairly ropey dialogue, and it’s really not very subtle writing when one character says to another, ‘Don’t lose this knife, it’s solid silver‘, within two minutes of the movie starting.

This is a low-budget movie and a lot of the time it shows. The werewolf costumes are distinctly variable, but my main problem was that sunlight clearly shines in through the cottage windows when most of the film is set at night. But this is a minor quibble as there is much here to enjoy. There are some very effective moments (and you can have fun spotting which other films they’ve been nicked from) and there’s a mordant wit at work. The comedy is jet black but nevertheless effective and fans of gore will find quite a bit to entertain them (this is only rated 15 in the UK, which amazed me). I learnt new things about superglue, too.

There are some fun performances: McKidd is surprisingly effective as the hero, very dour and committed. It’s an effective contrast with Sean Pertwee, who is – as usual – shamelessly, frenetically hammy but nonetheless highly entertaining. Emma Cleasby is okay in a fairly thankless role, too.

I quite enjoyed Dog Soldiers in the end. It’s no frills, down and dirty stuff, but that suits the subject matter very well. In the end it’s almost exactly the sum of its parts – so it’s lucky that most of those parts were in pretty good films to start with.

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