By Bill Arceneaux
The last time I caught a movie starring Frank Grillo – an actor I had only heard of recently – was Captain America: The Winter Soldier, where he played a double agent tough guy. It was clear, from the way he carried himself, that he’s best suited for action films, even with limited drama. When he has to attack the lead, he tries to apologize, before taking a swing. It was a small moment, sure, but I did get the feeling that his character was merely “doing his job,” and if things were different, would much rather fight along side the hero. Again, the range was limited, but something was there.
His latest, The Purge: Anarchy, is no action film, nor is it good at whatever it’s trying to be. Horror? Satire? Whatever it is, it doesn’t suit Grillo.
The only reason this movie exists is because the first one, The Purge, was made on a low budget and did surprisingly well at the box office, making a nice profit for its investors. Of course, a sequel had to be made. What made the original – which was pretty silly itself – work, was the limitations. They couldn’t afford to shoot in multiple locations, so they just set it in a house. This added a very intimate, and even slightly scary, feel. It also didn’t hurt having a craftsman like Ethan Hawke around to properly deliver pathos.
Now with a bigger budget, Anarchy should be better, applying the execution from the original and using the new money for some bigger effects and set pieces. Instead, the movie opts for cheapness all around. The vast majority of footage is made up of people walking and running down empty city streets. The vast majority of violence is made up of computer graphic blood splatter and quickly edited fights. The vast majority of dialogue is made up of superfluous exposition and lines like “Move!” and “Stay close.” No time is spent on caring about anything – characters or themes – and everything that happens is, ultimately, pointless…wasted opportunities on screen.
When I told a friend that I was seeing this movie, they commented that it “was an excuse for violence.” Ironically, the plot gives its characters an excuse to commit violence, but I don’t think the filmmakers were wanting a reason to film horrific acts. If this was the case, the movie would be far more interesting – morally repugnant, maybe, but interesting nonetheless. Think of this as the new Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 and weep.
I learned something very important about Grillo from watching Anarchy. He needs help turning trash into treasure. By himself, he’s just a vessel for sentences like “keep quiet” and “I need a car” and a placeholder for a direct to DVD action hero. With a screenplay written halfway well and direction that isn’t apathetic or lethargic, Grillo can shine. He could even be cast as The Punisher one day. Until then, I’d leave this project off the resume, sir.
Best Moment: The introduction of the machine gun armed truck driver.
Worst Moment: When our hero makes his climatic try at justice.
Advice: Looking for some complexity along with your action and horror? Look elsewhere.