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rochefort [Film Festival 10.01.09] movie review action drama

Year: 2009
Directors: Uwe Boll
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: rochefort
Rating: 8 out of 10

[Editor's note: This is our SECOND glowing review of Rampage from that director we all really hate. You can read our first from L'Etrange here.]

"House of the Dead". "Alone in the Dark". "In the Name of the King". Picture in your head an image or two from any of these movies. Now try these: "Taxi Driver". "Falling Down". "The King of Comedy". "Combat Shock". It's a pretty dissonant mix, I admit, but it goes some way to explaining just how messed up it is to walk out of a movie by one of fandom's most reviled directors thinking we're all about to eat some crow. "Rampage", the latest film by boxer/director Uwe Boll, every film critic's favorite whipping boy, is a good movie. A really good one.

Bill (Brendan Fletcher) is a guy in his early twenties who lives with his parents (Lynda Boyd and Matt Frewer), works as a mechanic to save money for college, and hangs out with Evan (Shaun Sipos), a hipster with the typical coffee-shop, down with the man, elitist chip on his shoulder. Bill is a smart but floundering sociopath who has grown progressively weary with a society that he sees as all talk and no action. So he special orders the means to make his own custom-designed battle armor, buys a small arsenal of weaponry, and takes to the streets, literally, on a one-day mission of seemingly random carnage.

The first real revelation is Fletcher's portrayal of Bill as the kind of ticking time bomb we rarely see in movies anymore. The Travis Bickles and Rupert Pupkins of cinema, as iconic as they are, tend to stand out from the crowd from the get-go; it's not a matter of if they're going to explode, but when. But Bill is the kind of guy you probably wouldn't single out as the one most likely to commit mass homicide. More often than not he comes off as just the kid next door having a bad day, and Boll makes no attempt to explain Bill's pathology as the result of abuse or some pervasive societal injustice, and provides strong indicators that his life is, in fact, pretty average. His parents nag him a bit, but they're both loving and soft-spoken. His boss is a hard-ass, but no more so than usual. And Bill is by no means lovable, or even likable, but he's also not obvious villain material, and we the audience have to concede that, sociopath or not, he leads a life familiar to many of us.

Another blindside, especially in a film by a director responsible for career-worst performances from almost every actor he's ever used, is the uniform excellence of the cast. A huge chunk of the dialogue is improvised, and the talkier scenes in the first act have a raw but temperate feel that calls to mind elements of (brace yourself) Cassavettes or any number of 70's era directors who trusted their stage-trained actors to bring an unpolished realness to each scene. Michael Pare' and geek-favorite Katherine Isabelle, both in memorable cameos, do some of the best work of their respective careers. And when the shooting starts, every encounter with every potential or actual one of Bill's victims rings true.

Then there's the killing, and there's definitely a lot of it. Bill's body count is a disturbing one, made more so by the weird fine line between brutal docudrama and heroic fantasy that Boll draws and maintains well into the climax. How you perceive and judge the film's bloodier scenes could end up saying a lot about your own character, especially since the director doesn't have the headiest track record when it comes to movie violence. The tone shifts from barbaric to darkly comic to banal then barbaric again, and regardless of what the original intention may have been, it all feels jarringly real, even while leaving you with the sneaking suspicion that this is almost a grittier filmed version of Grand Theft Auto (a game which, let's be honest, is itself a sociopathic violent fantasy).

When you walk out of an American movie, any American movie, there's a 90 to 95% chance that the filmmakers have gone to great lengths to ensure you know their exact position on the morality spectrum. It may not be perfectly clear what every aspect of the story means, but we rarely have to work very hard to draw the most relevant conclusions, even with Oscar bait and the more personal films from our top tier filmmakers. It's tough enough to find movies in which characters are allowed any real degree of unresolved ambiguity; finding one that refuses to confirm the entire film's (and, by extension, its creators') overarching moral stance is a downright freakish anomaly. "Rampage" refuses to clarify itself in this respect, and is too well-crafted to have achieved this solely by accident. It poses the question "what if a seemingly random act of senseless violence was neither random nor senseless?", then leaves the decision up to you, like it or not. Boll's reputation to date is going to be the chief reason why skepticism endures in what could be a meaty debate if and when the film starts to reach a wider audience, one who'll most likely have to discover it on dvd or blu-ray. But such debate would be a healthy thing, because as jaded as we may think we are, this movie is genuinely dangerous. And we're not talking dangerous like Van Sant's "Elephant", a good film with a risky subject that, while lauded, didn't start any firestorms of controversy, at least not on the level required to break through the bubble of complacency that has become the norm. "Rampage" is the Columbine killings as depicted by cinematically-adept versions of the killers themselves, a revenge fantasy that somehow manages to be both repulsive and canny. And yeah, it's still tempting to write the whole thing off as maybe Boll's own fantasy, one in which he gets to cathartically do onscreen to his harshest critics that which he could never allow himself to do in the real world, all the while rubbing their noses in the bigger questions that a subject like this inevitably provokes (this is the guy who gave some of his critics a beat down in a boxing ring, after all). I can't rule out that possibility. But I also can't deny that this film stays with you. Good movies can do that. Bad ones can, too. Discussion required.

With a picture like this you can't help but hold the filmmaker's feet to the fire for even the smallest misstep, and there will almost certainly be some serious fallout. Some will deride the film as exploitative, some will simply avoid it altogether, some will hold it up as an example of what happens when a mediocre director bites off a lot more than he can chew, and others will demand the director's head on a stake. I've never been a fan of a single thing Boll has done until now, so my reaction definitely wasn't preordained. But I can't shake the idea that if this had been Uwe's debut picture, his reputation would be that of a gifted and provocative filmmaker, one primed to rile us up again and again. So Uwe, nut up, dude. Go to the mountain again for whatever inspired this level of fortitude and daring, and maybe this next time out show us what you can do when your storytelling isn't so spurned on by the anger you feel from and towards your detractors. Maybe "Rampage" is just a provocative accident, but maybe not. Stranger things have happened, right? The ball's in your court, but at least the next time we may actually be watching.

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Cletus (12 years ago) Reply

I always thought Boll was just yanking our chains to see how loud we'd squeal before finally settling down to do some real work. I admit to being one of the squealers, but Tunnel Rats changed my mind, I don't know about Rampage and I didn't see Stoic,, but I'm interested to see how he handles Dafur which will be released in the near future(?)


Pat (12 years ago) Reply

watch stoic. said it before on here. its simply...great. seriously. its a lot like this. its about society now...issues we face globally... there its about the prison system and group dynamics. great film. and dolls method acting skills that he uses to direct the actors are outstanding. for stoic all of the actors slept and lived in the cells for a couple of days. how great is that?


Jonas (12 years ago) Reply

Gah! The fact that boll can make decent movies makes me hate him even more. It just proves that he was intentionally doing crap movies to get money from terrible german tax laws.

He's no more than a tax fraudster crapping over pre-existing works (the games) for money. And now when germany has changed their laws he's forced to make watchable movies.

He might be smart and funny but he's still a greedy asshole.


Anonymous (12 years ago) Reply

The guy is a talentless hack


agentorange (11 years ago) Reply

Finally caught up with this on Netflix this weekend. I'm still amazed it's a Boll film. Formally, it's arresting and somehow, despite the extreme nature of the subject, it's a thematically astute.

If this was made by another director, or was the work of a new director it would have received major attention.

I'm still in complete shock.

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