Step-Brothers

Starring Morgan Freeman, James McAvoy, Angelina Jolie Directed by Timor Bekmambetov
Running Time: 108 mins
Rated: Rated MA 15+ (strong violence and sex scenes)
There is a recent over-the-top tradition in action films, especially those based on graphic novels, comic strips and computer games, a kind of anything you can do, I can do bigger, better and louder - and flashier. It can be traced back to Quentin Tarantino and his pal Robert Rodriguez in the 1990s to their recent collaboration, Grindhouse. John Woo could do it as well, think of Face/Off. The Wachowski Brothers raised the bar with The Matrix series. Meanwhile over in Moscow, the Kazakhstan-born director of commercials, Timur Bekmambetov, tried to outdo them all with his futuristic thrillers Night Watch (2004) and Day Watch (2006) and, just in terms of flash and flair may have outdone them all.

Now he has his own Hollywood blockbuster, Wanted, and there's no mistaking the graphic oomph that he brings to it. Immediately in its favour, it is much easier to follow the plot than in Night Watch or Day Watch. But, here he is with huge action pieces like smasheroo car chases and a train crash and dangling carriages on a high bridge (which completely ignore collateral damage in terms of people's lives and property destruction - no realism here). And here he is again with all kinds of camera techniques, hand-held, playing with time and motion, altering speeds at whim, especially with firing bullets that can go round people to their intended targets (and some bullets just colliding in mid-fire and melding).

By this stage of the review, it is hoped that those who don't fancy this kind of visual extravaganza will have decided whether they want to indulge or not. What remains is the actual content.

This is shoot-em-up with a vengeance (a lot of vengeance). Since it cannot be taken for real (and this kind of thing was spoofed by Hancock), we have to put aside the body count, the bullets and the knives as part of the graphic novel imagination. This may be a generational thing as younger audiences play along with the conventions, lap them up as once upon a time kids did as they played cowboys and Indians. Many of the older generation are not on the wavelength and don't want to be.

One of the difficulties with an adrenalin-pumping two hours like this is that plays on our aggro tendencies and sensibilities. The discussion is whether they are intensified or sublimated by a kind of new Saturday-matinee-mentality catharsis.

James McAvoy seems one of the least likely candidates for action hero (think Mr Thomas in Narnia or Atonement) but that is the point. He is a beyond-nerdy accountant who is recruited by a secret society of assassins presided over by Morgan Freeman at his most oratorical with Angelina Jolie at her most Lara Croft- CGI iconic looking. He becomes a top killer only to find a twist in the plot that starts to make a moral point about making decisions for life, learning that you cannot always trust the information you are given - but it would be interesting to conduct an exit poll from the cinemas to check whether this is actually what the enthusiasts get out of the film. Checking on comments on the IMDb, it looks as though some do. So there were are or, as the case may be with non-fans, there we are not.

Universal Out September 18

Fr Peter Malone MSC directs the film desk of SIGNIS: the World Association of Catholic Communicators, and is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.


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