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The action thriller of modern cinema is becoming more and more defined by the level of brutal violence that can be wrung from it, with some finding ways to work it properly into a story and others, well not so much, relying on the graphic possibilities of it to distract, thinking it somehow a matter of style. With Arsenal, a film that falls into the latter category, the movie not only mishandles the violence and potential for it but also the cast it has who seem willing to make this something more than it ends up.
The film begins with JP and his older brother, Mikey as young boys who are beset on hard times early when Mikey comes home to a scene of intense horror, shielding JP away and scurrying him off to the nearby arcade. When he later heads to pick up his brother, he stumbles upon another ghastly moment in a room full of plastic sheeting where a crazed mobster named Eddie King (Nicholas Cage) murders a man strapped to a chair by plowing a metal pipe through his head with a baseball bat. Seen by King, Mikey is soon offered work and it paves the way to a future of crime.
Twenty-three years later, the boys grown, JP (Adrian Grenier) is now a small, tough-minded business owner with a wife and child while Mikey (Johnathon Schaech) is divorced, a war vet and barely scrapping by as he tries to get into the drug trade. When Mikey gets kidnapped by King (something we know but JP doesn’t) and held for $350,000 ransom, JP can’t raise the money so turns to local corrupt cop Sal (John Cusack), who attempts to find out where Mikey is stashed. It’s up to JP though to enter this dark world and try to save his brother in this blood-drenched collision.
Directed by Steven C. Miller, who is padding his portfolio with plenty of low-budget, aggressive films, Arsenal is another standard, connect-the-dots action thriller splattered in gore and violence that is full of potential but suppressed by generic filmmaking and action set-pieces and obvious dialogue that leave this mostly unwatchable. As if spewed from a vending machine of cliché-ridden B-movies, it rolls along with a lethargic pace, devoid almost anything of interest, more intent on slow-motion scenes of ultra-violence than investment in character or story.
The central issue is the cast, with Grenier all wrong, an actor who is good in the right role but here is too weak and ineffectual to get behind. While he was much better in last year’s Trash Fire, here, he can’t find the right tone and spends much of the film seemingly disinterested. Schaech comes off a bit better, a sometimes menacing presence that smolders and carries the weight of his character’s past mostly to good effective.
Most disappointing though is Cage who is an actor on a roller-coaster of performances, as is often made light of. While he did some of his best work in last year’s Army of One, here he is choked by poor direction, editing, and odd wardrobing (wearing a wig that is probably meant to harken Anton Chigurh from No Country For Old Men), never allowed to truly go to the heights his character needs to. He’s sort of reprising a character from an obscure cult classic from 1993 called Deadfall, but it is meaningless in the end, perhaps a wink to fans but comes off unfulfilling.
Arsenal should be a sharp thriller. It has a solid premise and some interesting characters and has the tinderbox capability of Cage at its beck and call and yet is a dreary and lifeless film that revels in absurd violence. All involved have done better.
Movie description: Arsenal is a 2016 thriller about a small time Southern mobster who is kidnapped, forcing his legit brother to take matters into his own hands in order to get him back.
Director(s): Steven C. Miller
Actor(s): Nicolas Cage, John Cusack, Adrian Grenier
Genre: Thriller, Drama