The A-Team

Starring Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Quinton Jackson, Sharlto Copley, and Jessica Biel. Directed by Joe Carnahan
Rated M (action violence). 117 min.

This adventure film is based on the popular television series, “The A-Team”, which ended in 1986 after playing for five seasons. No strangers to lively pace and action, Ridley Scott together with his brother, Tony, helped to produce the film, and the creators of the original television series were involved in its making. The plot has shifted from Vietnam to the Middle East, now a favourite locale for contemporary action-adventure movies with something to do with the military.

As in the original series, the plot of the movie tracks the adventures of four US Special Army Forces soldiers, three of whom (Liam Neeson as Col. John “Hannibal” Smith; Bradley Cooper as Lt. Templeton “Faceman” Peck; and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, professional boxer by trade, as Sgt. “Bad Attitude” Baracus) have been arrested for a crime they did not commit, and have been branded as war criminals. Each of them was a member of a crack commando team and spend most of their time in this movie trying to do battle with the military police. Their helicopter pilot in the past was Captain “Howling Mad” Murdock (Sharlto Copley), who was an inmate of a psychiatric institution.  All are stripped of their rank and given prison terms, but eventually escape from separate military prisons and join forces as soldiers of fortune. The four are now mercenaries, who have nothing to lose. The task at hand is rescuing money plates, stolen from an Iraqi mint, but the real issue for them is to clear their name. Romance is supplied by Jessica Beil, playing the part of a cold, military operative, who tries aggressively to match the he-man qualities of the A-Team.

The movie acts out its tag line. If there is a problem, and you can afford its services, the A-Team can help. Not surprisingly, the A-Team is a group of soldiers wanting to have their rank back, and will do almost anything to achieve that. The television series had the team standing by those in need and supporting the virtuous. The film version has shifted a little to the right, and now aggression outweighs any obvious form of noble virtue. There are multiple double-crosses involving the CIA, the military, and old friends, and they keep you guessing throughout. In the film, members of the A-Team work well with each other. The team has enormous fun together, and the fun is contagious.

Living out the legacy of the past, the film brings plenty of action to the screen and there are the predictable number of explosions, killings and acts of retribution one might expect, all conveyed with Ridley’s expected style and skill, and directed competently by Carnahan. However, there is something about a group of people who have been wronged that subtly suggests they have a legitimacy to run amok aggressively to make up for what has happened to them. The A-Team attempts to do that with high energy and abandon. 

Liam Neeson has played quality roles in the past and is an excellent actor. Here, he trades that quality for some formulaic action pieces that at times descend into entertaining farce. There is great stunt work behind the action sequences, though, and the climatic scene of the tanker exploding, and toppling over, is almost worth the price of admission. There is also able support from the intriguing camera work of Mauro Fiore, who was the person behind the camera in “Avatar”. In this film, both the director and the cinematographer join “action with story-line” in a disconnected way, that is very different from what is seen in most adventure movies. The photographic work virtually demands that you try and fit the pieces together.

This film entertains in modern style. It joins fun with realistic violence, and Carnahan’s direction at times has an engaging cartoonish touch. Overall, the film is different from what was seen in the softer television series, more than two decades ago, but it carries you along.

20th Century Fox. Out June 10, 2010

Peter W Sheehan is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting. 


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