Organ du jour: Spleen
By John Anderson
Friday, March 19, 2010
For all the soullessness of studio pictures, where else can today's moviegoer find moral outrage, political pluck or a sense of insurrection? That's right: mid- to massive-budgeted sci-fi/horror/fantasy. There's "Avatar's" anti-corporatism; "District 9's" apartheid allegory; "The Crazies' " eco-militancy; and, now, the health-care-gone-haywire nightmare of "Repo Men." Could a world actually exist in which artificial organs bought on credit could be repossessed from their delinquent containers by Taser-wielding corporate ninjas? That we can even ask the question makes for a thriller with requisite plausibility and the proper quotient of paranoia.
Directed by Miguel Sapochnik, who may have watched "Blade Runner" a few too many times, "Repo Men" grafts moral ambiguity onto the action thriller, and the result is a weird but likably misshapen beast. The plot may take more unpleasant turns than a small intestine, but isn't that what we want out of our suspense films? Throw in Jude Law, whom I, for one, will watch anytime, in anything, as anyone -- even a guy who leaves his "clients" liverless and lifeless -- and one can forgive the movie's defects, and its indecision about being tragedy or comedy.
Law plays Remy, the top repo man for the Union, a monolithic multinational-cum-government that urges transplants onto ailing customers and then tracks them down when they don't make their payments. The ease with which Remy operates -- evidenced by the old R&B he listens to on his earphones as he removes a bit of this or piece of that -- indicates how good he is, and how insulated. When we meet him, trouble's brewing: His wife, Carol (an oddly sour Carice Van Houten), wants him to move into sales. Compartmentalizing like a madwoman, she thinks it better for him to sell the cursed organs than reclaim them. His Army buddy and fellow repo dude Jake (Forest Whitaker) wants things to remain the same, though he shouldn't worry: Remy is so obviously not a management guy that his chances of moving up are slim. When Remy has a heart attack, he gets a transplant he can't pay for, and the hunter becomes the hunted.
Sapochnik's bloody mess has much in common with "Repo! The Genetic Opera," Darren Lynn Bousman's 2008 adaptation of the Darren Smith-Terrance Zdunich stage musical. While the campy "Repo!" was also about repossessed organs, screenwriter Eric Garcia's novel "The Repossession Mambo" is rooted elsewhere -- in "Brazil," in "Death of a Salesman," in a Kubrick-meets-Burgess vision of a cruel futuristic society. The coincidence is not so odd: With the battle over health care raging, the idea of buying organs on time from ruthless, cutthroat "providers" was one of those concepts that was waiting to be hatched, and hatched again.
In keeping with the trend toward multinational casting, "Repo Men" has a bit of everywhere about it: Besides the Dutch van Houten, the English Law, and the Americans Whitaker and Liev Schreiber (as a perfect corporate viper), there's Brazil's tiny treasure Alicia Braga as Beth, the mostly mechanical gamine with whom Remy tries to get off the grid and out of debt. The movie does take a trip into deepest Crazyville: A duet of anesthesia-less surgeries performed by Remy and Beth on each other is so borderline orgasmic it may qualify as the horror-fantasy version of a Rogers-Astaire dance number.
Contains vulgarity, gore, violence, sexuality and nudity.