Principal Cast : Clive Owen, Monica Bellucci, Paul Giamatti, Stephen McHattie, Greg Bryk, Daniel Pilon, Ramona Pringle, Julian Richings, Stephen R Hart.
Synopsis: An assassin and a prostitute must save an orphaned infant from the clutches of a vicious gangster.
In the genre of action films, names such as John Woo, Richard Donner, and Tsui Hark instantly spring to mind. Directors with a flair for visual action, for capturing the frenetic pace and rampant confusion associated with the style. After years of perfecting their art, they are renowned masters of the action genre.
Enter Michael Davis. Davis has, with this single film, given us a balls-out example of action gunplay done by a modern stylist. John Woo made several films which forever defined his career, Hard Boiled and The Killer, both of which rank as to two most stylish gunplay films ever devised. Richard Donner mastered the American style, with quick editing and a sense of location that set the standard for the rest of us. Tsui Hark, a Chinese director who has attempted just about every genre known to man, is relatively unknown here in Australia, and even the US, but is a legend in his home country. His widescreen filmmaking style is both beautiful and elegant. Davis, whilst distilling facets of these directors into his own unique brand of rapid-fire gun-toting cinematic hurly burly, gives us his own take on the genre by bringing it down and dirty.
Shoot ’em Up is by no means highbrow action fare. It’s brutal, violent, sexy and over-the-top. But it’s the fact that everybody appears to be having so much fun making this film, that you get swept up by its verbosity and blood coated plotline. Paul Giamatti, playing the snarling, growling bad-guy, is a delight. His screen charisma was never one I considered to be overtly malevolent, yet here he fills the screen with the type of cliched maniac that aches to be let loose upon the viewing public, and it is a beautiful thing. “Violence is a beautiful thing to watch,” his character says at one point in the film. I couldn’t agree with him more.
Star Clive Owen, somewhat similarly to the role he played in the more successful Sin City, is terrific, equally matching Giamatti’s star power and playing the role of mysterious “street bum” turned action hero with both aplomb and a certain sense of dark irony. Thankfully, Owen has some of the best lines in the film.
Perhaps the weakest link in the film is Monica Bellucci (last seen by US audiences in the second and third Matrix films) who is given very little to work with in the script. As a supporting actress, I guess she’s not going to get top billing, but in this film I thought she was reduced to something less than her character deserved. Playing a prostitute who helps Owen’s quest to solve a mystery, as the film wears on she becomes less of an angry, world weary woman of the night, and a more toothless, “why is this happening” cypher through which the plot is advanced. That said, if this is the weakest part of the film, then that’s okay with me, because the rest of it is cinematic dynamite.
It’s hard to describe the visceral nature of such a film without mentioning the violence, the blood and the effects. With such a large quantity of guns in the film, and plenty of action sequences between the (thankfully) short story segments, you get a fair opportunity to see some varied and grotesque screen deaths. I doubt even John Woo himself would be able to conjure up a film where so much blood has been spilled. The action scenes are frenetic, yet not confusingly so: a sure sign of a director with a great vision. Bodies fly through the air, blood spraying, windows shattering, wall gouging gunfire of the highest magnitude. While appearing much like a strange ballet, the film never condescends to rapid-fire cuts for the sake of hiding directorial ineptitude; instead it raises itself to the cinematic equivalent of Swan Lake, just with more guns.
Admittedly, the storyline is utterly nonsensical, and at times the logic behind things is severely stretched to the point of snapping like the bra-strap covering Bellucci’s boobs, but this soon dissolves in a hail of automatic and semi-automatic gunfire and equally rapid quips. And just when you think all the stops have been pulled out, the bar is raised again. Shoot ’em Up is high class violence, the kind teachers hate and teenagers love. If Davis continues to make films of this calibre, then he will soon rise to the ranks of the aforementioned legends of the genre. Bloody, gory and sexy, Shoot ’em Up is top class fun.