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Sabotage | Review

Treacherous Uncoupling: Ayer’s Latest May is Fun, Brutally Violent Nonsense

David Ayers Sabotage PosterOkay, so, if you can keep in mind that the outcome of its tizzied, conventional plot may not add up as nice and neat as purists may demand, as well as ignore several over-the-tip flourishes concerning hypermasculine braggadocio, you might actually enjoy David Ayer’s latest directorial effort, Sabotage. Fans of his last film, the superior cop drama, End of Watch, may find this follow-up a violently prurient stab at box office glory rather than a bona fide counterpoint, but let’s keep in mind that soft spots were evident there as well (such as the believability of Gyllenhaal and Pena during the vicious unspooling of that plot). Here, we find the Training Day scribe operating in his usual mien of bombastic violence and urban decay, where we get rated R onslaughts that dare to be convey bloody, brutal and repulsive, a throwback to a heyday of action flicks long gone by, and headlining a grizzled remnant from that period, as well. Bound to turn off many for multiple reasons, Ayer has created a mainstream anomaly in a concerted effort to make an entertaining film with evident thought put into the total package. Whether or not it’s a smooth little cutlet is another matter, but as far as action flicks go, it’s certainly entertaining.

Breacher (Arnold Schwarzeneggar) is the head of an elite DEA task force that infiltrates impenetrable drug cartels. After busting into a highly dangerous cartel safe house, they successfully extract ten million, thinking their operation went smoothly. However, upon going to collect the money funneled out of the house, they discover that someone has double crossed them, which causes the FBI to investigate, but to no avail. While we’re unsure of just who took the money, the members of Breacher’s team begin to be assassinated, one by one. The drug cartel is initially suspected, but savvy investigator Caroline (Olivia Williams) begins to uncover more suspicious motives the more she discovers about Breacher and his team.

Okay, so Breacher and his motley crew all get silly names, like ‘Monster’ or ‘Sugar’ and most of the actors portraying them (Josh Holloway, Terrence Howard, Joe Manganiello, Sam Worthington) are just grunts in throwaway roles depending on how soon they’re scheduled to be killed. When all is revealed, some of this seems a little silly and motives might not stand up to close inspection, but nevertheless, Ayers rides the fine line between exploitation and compelling grotesque flourishes that should manage to cause winces amongst the desensitized masses.

Bloated, water logged bodies, guts hanging out of corpses from ceilings and point blank shots to the head, among several other despicable images are all featured in great detail. And why not? Is this not adult entertainment? The depiction of violence, when not used for meaningless exploitation, should create a visceral response, and Ayers proves, once again, that he has a gleeful penchant for it. With the exception of dazzlingly vicious Mirielle Enos, whose overcompensating, tough talking Lizzy outshines them all, the rest of Schwarzeneggar’s crew is quite forgettable, even though he turns in a winning lead performance. Certainly giving the action star more of a dramatic arc than drek like several titles he’s appeared in with Sylvester Stallone recently, or the comedic The Last Stand, try as he might, there’s no chemistry with co-star Olivia Williams, who gives a stand out performance here, even if her Southern accent drifts in and out sporadically (it doesn’t help that her comedic asides with Harold Perrineau are much more entertaining).

While Ayer has DP Bruce McCleery on hand this time around, a similar kinetic aesthetic is on display with sometimes roving POV switches, such as directly at the barrel of a gun, at one point. Even as over baked as all these elements tend to be (including some other more disparate cast members like Martin Donovan and Troy Garity), Ayers, working with the a more intrinsically formulaic screenwriter, Skip Woods, gets a lot of mileage out of pulpy material thanks to one or two winning performances and a knack for effectively using tension and violence.


Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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