Writer/director S. Craig Zahler hits the ground running after his brutal revenge prison thriller, Brawl in Cell Block 99 and his Western turned Horror flick, Bone Tomahawk. His latest effort is his most mature and accomplished film. He unveils the opposite side of Vince Vaughn’s acting chops in comparison to his last film, and uses Mel Gibson in a role that is perfect for his gritty style of acting. One could label this as a cop-thriller, but such a description doesn’t do the film justice.
We first see the cops in long stakeout. The two partners get their man, but Brett (Gibson) uses excessive force to interrogate their target, and thanks to a neighbour with a camera-phone, the footage is leaked to the media. Brett, desperate to make ends meet, and without his badge, uses old contacts and favours to find a potential large score, which of course is far from legal, but will keep his family in comfort for life. Or so his contacts assure him. This is the crux of the film and with a witty script, the two cops share a chemistry that is both funny and believable.
The film pulls no punches when stating that this video will look much worse as the ‘victim’ is Latino, as opposed to a white man. The boss states this without hesitation, and one can’t argue if in a situation like this. With the video set to hit the nightly news, the two are temporarily suspended, and not for the first time one would imagine.
As well as racial issues, the film core statement is on the salaries of hard working cops who put their life on the line for the benefit of the community. Brett (Gibson) seems to question why he continues to do this as he can’t afford move his family out of a bad neighbourhood – his daughter has been assaulted five times in two years by black young men, and his wife is crippled with Multiple Sclerosis. Again, no punches are pulled as to why she wants to get out of the area as quickly as possible.
There is much more to this story however. S Craig shows his development as a writer with a complex screenplay, far from straight-forward when compared to his last two films, as great as they are. Here, he methodically introduces characters in the first act and into the second, all of whom seem to have no connection to one another.
Waiting in a car for a certain person to appear is far from being fun as the two are stuck in the car together, and begin to dislike each other for amusingly petty reasons, creating great banter given their contrasting personalities of a grisly over-aged cop and an up-beat partner in Anthony (Vaughn) who is probably just over half of Bretts’s age. The humour is dry, dark, and never predictable; much like the entire film.
A tried but true decision faces the partners in crime. Do they risk their badges, and more importantly their lives and family for a large payday? Brett of course sees it as the only way out, the character study of a cop in his position is executed with finesse, inviting us to care about him as a cop, characters who are often depicted as very closed-off people. Vince Vaughn as the supporting actor though isn’t in financial trouble, and it is a guessing game as to whether he pulls out of the deal or sticks by his partner. It is obvious that their relationship as partners is something that only cops could ever understand.
Naturally, shit hits the proverbial fan, and what follows is Zahler’s first consistently excellent extended set piece. Executed as if he has done it many times with a hand tied behind his back, the final act is extremely tense and well paced as bullets fly, the shootout lasting much longer that you would expect. Clocking in at least twenty minutes, the tension keeps viewer guessing and on their toes. Also important is the lack of a soundtrack here, as during this tense firefight, the crack of gunshots pierce the silence with a dagger. The entire experience could also be described in this way: a dagger of a film that will resonate and linger for a long time.
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