Friday, September 16, 2011

Movie review: Repo Menu (2010)

Warning: This review contains minor plot spoilers.


When you can't pay the bills for your artificial internal organ, a Repo Man will come and remove it for you to settle the debt.  You don't have a choice.  90 days and your time is up. 


The story, while not quite original, does give a neat spin on the usual bleak dystopian future movie.  It's not *too* far in the future either (it never says) and people don't wear silver jump suits or glass-covered bubble helmets all the time.  There's a grounding in reality and the idea of a company profiting from the misery and misfortune of others is unfortunately a massively topical issue in the American health-care system.  Tales of injured and sick people being wheeled *out* of hospitals because they don't have the insurance are not unheard of so it's not too much of a leap to see this profit-led health-care company demanding payment for artificial organs and such-like. 

Whether legalized murder will be sanctioned by the state to settle such debts is another matter however, as that is inevitably what happens to an unfortunate non-payer.  A quick knock-out dart, snippety-snip and that new kidney which keeps you alive is heading back to the company for refurbishment.  You meanwhile, are left to fend for yourself in the street / elevator / bed.  So, death then.

Jude Law seems to be one of those actors who splits opinion.  His less than salubrious personal lifestyle seems to overshadow his work which is a shame as he tends to 'hit' more than he 'misses'.  I'm no fanboy and for every Road to Perdition there's a Sky Captain.  Playing one of the titular Repo Men here, Remy, he comes across exceptionally well and shock of all shocks, he can do Jason Bourne-style action.

As we follow Remy in his job as the number one Repo Man in the company, we discover his lack of empathy follows through to his home-life as his wife reels away from the man her husband has become.  In effect, a cold-hearted, legalized murderer.  Obviously, not in their wedding vows then?  Laws best friend Jake, played by Forest Whitaker, he of the laziest eye in Hollywood, is equally at home cutting up live-people for their innards.  They grew up together, fought in the 'war' together and ended up working together as partners-in-legal-crime.  They both share the same thick-headedness and unshakeable belief in what they are doing is for the greater good.  Rules are not meant to be broken.  If a customer reneges on a deal, in the same way that a bank will recover the house on a defaulted mortgage, they see the recovery of vital internal organs to be an important part of the commercial society they live in.

At times, they contemplate doing a 'job' on someone they know and both agree they would do it regardless.  This force-feeding of plottage sets up a predictable turn of events.  Jude Law, acting out one more job before moving to a more relaxed job in the sales division, suffers an accident and in a fortuitous move, his heart has to be replaced with a fake one supplied by the very company he works for.  What happens if one of the Repo Men can't afford the heart they have had installed, albeit against their will?  Liev Schreiber playing their boss Frank seems to revel in these smarmy pugnacious roles.

This is where the crux of the movie lies.  How does Jake react to what is essentially the two buddies' worst work scenario?  How does Remy deal with the object inside him that makes him the very thing he didn't want to be?  Indebted, in pain, in trouble.  Becoming ever more desperate, he forges an alliance with a highly-modified singer / drug addict played by Alice Braga, and they struggle to rid themselves of these very personal, hard-to-remove artefacts.

Cinematically, Repo Men tries to evoke at least a small sense of Blade Runner.  Very few films ever come close to that seminal Sci-Fi classic and while Repo Menu tries its hardest, it's hampered by a lack of vision, budget and downright testicular fortitude.  That's no bad thing of course, to come second best to Blade Runner I mean, and this film certainly does a lot better than many of its contemporaries in its artistic direction and scope.  There are plenty of little touches such as the wallpaper in a kids bedroom being essentially a giant TV screen and a dark blend of humour running throughout.  Director Miguel Sapochnik, his first full-length feature incidentally, decided not to take itself *too* seriously and there are some genuine laugh-out-loud moments.

The soundtrack is employed to tremendous use with an enjoyably eclectic mix of modern pop and rap and some golden oldies.  It fits well.

It's not without its bad points.  The murders, and that's what they are, of the people relinquishing their organs is a little too far-fetched.  It's a ham-fisted way to make a point about capitalistic medicine and its ironic lack of regard to human life.  Maybe I'm being naive but surely private enterprise simply couldn't get away with such a blatant disregard?  At least now, these shadowy corporate cabals do it behind a cloak of secrecy so us mere mortals aren't offended by this lack of public accountability.  Maybe things will change in the future?  Probably, but I hope I'm not here to see that particular societal development.

As the film never mentions how far in the future it is set, the sums involved for an artificial organ seem ludicrously high especially with the company making so many dodgy lending decisions to people who obviously haven't the means to pay.  They make todays bankers look positively frugal.  A company couldn't survive by killing its customers without some kind of bad press.  Look at what happened to Gerald Ratner.  We obviously don't get to see the ones who *can* pay (living, as they do, a live of healthy luxury), but 600 grand seems an awful lot to fork out for a kidney (what price health I suppose?).

There is a HUGE twist in the film.  So massive, in fact, it makes you want to watch the film again just to 'see'.  I personally loved it.  My wife hated it and it tainted her view of the  whole film, even though she enjoyed it right up to that point.  That's a personal preference I guess and I have no qualms with that ... 'kind' of thing in a movie.

Interestingly ironic, we decided to watch this film ahead of Robin Hood (2010) as directed by Ridley Scott, he of Blade Runner.  Scott has committed the mortal sign of any Hollywood big player which is that of disappearing up his own arse.  Mind you, Gladiator would do that to you.  Robin Hood is devoid of charm and substance and so far removed from Blade Runner that it's up to these smaller-time directors to carry on that tradition.  Thankfully, Repo Men provides an interesting diversion and one for which I'm glad I saw.

Running time: 111 minutes
Certificate: 18 for themes of gore and hands inserted into living bodies.  Ewww.
IMDB entry:
Rated: 6.3.  I'd go for about 7.  I've put 4 stars here but that's a low 4, if you get my drift.

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