Right from the second this DVD started running in my player, I had a good feeling about it. The opening song has the exact pace I was looking for in this movie - and the film managed to match that pace and then some.
I had previously seen only 2 of Lundgren's movies as a director: Missionary Man, and The Mechanik - both of which end with epic shotgun-induced headsplosions.
Would you believe this is the less epic of the two?
Whilst Missionary Man is a fairly slow-paced film, a modern update of the classic western - a mysterious figure turning up in a town rife with conflict to help out the citizens, The Mechanik is an action-packed thriller which opens like the second half of Taken and closes like the second half of Missionary Man. Both of these films were awesome, and Lundgren has certainly proved that he can not only act and kick some serious arse, but can direct a half decent movie as well.
The Killing Machine, however, takes things to a whole new level. Right from the off, we get some incredible and brutal action, with Dolph taking down 4 guys in the opening sequence, before we flash back to the beginning of the actual story. I used a comparison with Taken above for The Mechanik, and I'm afraid I'm going to have to use it as a comparison again here - but not for the plot, rather for the violence. Oh, and the DVD covers, since they look identical:
Note: 'Icarus' is the title of the Director's cut - Dolph Lundgren's verison of the film. I watched the producer's cut - called 'The Killing Machine', so will be reviewing that.
One of the things I loved about Taken was, aside from in the driving scenes, the gun violence is incredibly realistic. The prime example for this being when Neeson shoots the henchman through the glass window in a door, and he just drops like a rock, with some bloodsplatter. The shot lasts all of a second, and is one of the most realistic looking headshots ever to appear on film. Whilst most films will either dwell on graphic wounds, like Saving Private Ryan, or will shoot them in a stylized manner, maybe with slow motion, or some kind of artistic imagery, such as Tommy DeVito's death in Goodfellas (see A History of Violence for a combination of both of these), Taken took things in the opposite direction, and made the violence graphic, but extremely quick - taking place in real time, with realistic wounds. The Killing Machine takes this a step further - keeping Taken's ultra-realistic gunshot and bone breaking wounds, but adding to it to make the violence as graphic as possible without appearing to be trying to dwell on it. Think *SPOILER ALERT* Leonard DiCaprio's death in The Departed - it's over in a split second, with him dropping realistically and not much time spent dwelling on the wound, and yet we get a very graphic blood-splatter on the wall behind him from the exit wound. The Killing Machine takes this kind of action - and applies it to nearly every death throughout the film - possibly creating the most realistic action movie of all time regarding violence.
A lot of the shots show the weapon going off in the same frame as the wound being inflicted - which always heightens the realism.
The visual effects outside of the shootings are incredible as well, especially regarding the wounds inflicted during the two torture scenes in the movie:
Let's put a Smile on that face!
Seriously, whoever did the effects on this had better wind up in Hollywood soon - because the wounds in this film are far more graphic than those in a lot of movies with 20 times the budget. The way the wounds leak in the few shots where we do pan back to someone who has been injured is also incredible, looking incredibly realistic, and slightly unnerving. In fact, this is the most impressive set of effects I've seen in a low budget movie since I watched The Thing earlier in the year.
Whilst the plot of The Killing Machine is nothing new - an ex-KGB agent who tried to leave his life behind winds up as a hitman for the mob, who then come after him after he botches a job in Hong Kong - it is fast paced and suspenseful. And despite the fact that you know exactly what is going to happen at every turn, is still incredibly thrilling to watch. Lundgren's use of different types of camera and shutterspeeds to reflect the mood of each scene is astounding for a man with so little experience in directing, and the voiceovers by the character fit in perfectly, sounding like a non-pretentious version of Max Payne.
Why don't you go shoot someone with your M4 you fucking conformist.
In all honesty, this is all you could ask for in an action movie, it doesn't make you think too hard - it doesn't try and be overly innovative, and yet it is just clever enough to be gripping, and has so much action I swear it must have broken some kind of record for a single-man bodycount. Wait, scratch that - I just remembered Punisher: War Zone...
No-one touches my KTD, N00B!
In fact, that's probably the best comparison I can make - the character has a similar background to that of Viggo Mortenson in A History of Violence (but switching origins with Mortenson's in Eastern Promises) - a man who wants to get away from his past life, and settle down with his family, but is unable to because not obeying his former bosses puts his family at risk, and so goes on a killing spree that even The Punisher would be proud of. Of course, that does make sense, all things considered:
Honestly, this is actually the movie I felt The Expendables should have been. The effects in that were too obviously added in post, and I think trying to give that many characters interesting parts was just too difficult for them to handle. By scaling back to having just one unstoppable machine 80s action star, and giving him a real motive for his violence, Dolph Lundgren has managed to create a perfect genre piece revenge movie, for about the 4th time in his career. In fact, I think Dolph Lundgren has actually become the master of the action-revenge movie (let us not forget that Deathwish isn't in fact a revenge movie, since Bronson never kills those actually responsible for his wife's death), and this is possibly the pinnacle of the genre. Of course, there isn't much originality here (Dolph Lundgren as an ex-KGB agent AGAIN?), but it's an action movie, so why worry? And the fact that only two of the deaths are ridiculous enough that they could have been in a Steven Seagal film shows some restraint on Dolph's part to not play into the stereotype of low budget action films.
Pictured: The only completely unrealistic death in the entire movie. Fairly impressive for a film made by an old 80s star for $5 million. Take THAT Van Damme!
On the subject of which - it's also nice to finally see a film which was shot in Canada admitting to this, and not trying to play itself off as being set in America as so many do. You know all those films set in Washington D.C. which are filmed in Toronto? Can't think of one? How about ANY film set in D.C. where you see a skyscraper? Since there are no skyscrapers in D.C. Oh, plus half the films set in New York...
Oh look, a 50-odd storey building in Die Hard 4 - well, that can't possibly have been shot in Canada, can it?
You know, in LA confidential, the cameras were placed deliberately so that any building taller than city hall would not be seen, because at the time the movie was set, that was the tallest building in LA. But when you come to movies set in D.C...
So mad props to Dolph for that - why play to the American audience. Canada has awesome stuff too...
In fact, the only real problem I had with the film (as well as the ridiculous death scene pictured above) was how open it was left at the end. It just didn't feel right, leaving the film at the point we did. If it had ended a scene earlier, things would have been perfect. If we had seen what happened next, it might have been better, but the ending felt pretty lackluster after the rest of the film. Oh, also, the codename for Dolph's character Icarus was a bit distracting, since I'd just watched Sunshine...
So, to sum up - awesome pace, well shot, compelling if a little cliched story, bitching soundtrack, incredible effects, and that guy from Inglorious Batards. What more could you want?
Given Fred Williamson would make a ridiculous KGB agent-turned Russian mobster...
Another cool thing about this film is that Dolph mixes up his fighting style so that rather than just the straight karate and shooting we're used to, he throws in some proper MMA-style shit as well, throwing and grappling dudes to mix things up with his punches. He looks great too, which is a relief, given some of the pictures of him which have been floating around recently:
Though, to be fair, he did play a heroin addict right after this, so maybe he was just trying to get into character?
This is Dolph at his finest, and it's unbelievable that he wasn't a fan of this cut of the movie. Now I really want to see the director's cut to find out what he did differently!
Brilliant action film, incredibly well shot, and with some half decent emotional scenes as well (unlike Steven Seagal's sex scene in 'A Dangerous Man'. Talk about awkward...). The plot is fairly predictable, but unravels nicely, and is on a par with other similar films such as A History of Violence. The pace of the action is incredible, and you wonder how they manage to keep it up for an entire movie without guys getting shot to pieces becoming boring. This film is nothing ground breaking, but has got to be the best action movie to come out since Punisher: War Zone. Plus, silenced Desert Eagles - What more could you want?
(I speak no Russian whatsoever, so I'm hoping my basic grasp of Serbian (do viđenja) is enough to have spelt that correctly...)