Friday, June 18, 2010


The A Team (2010) should be commended for truth in advertising. From the title (given some familiarity with the 80's TV series) you are expecting a dumb, loud, fist-and-explosion packed testosterone-fest, and that is exactly what you get. Remember in Die Hard or Live Free, when Bruce Willis went surfing on a missile, or a jet or some crazy thing that you can't possibly stand up on top of and live? That would have been somewhere in the middle of the crazy-scale for The A-Team.

So there are only a few questions for a big summer film based on a known property like this: Enough loud & noisy action? Yes; Reasonably decent story? Yes, a sort-of origin story, as the Team is exonerating themselves, not yet set up as a team for hire; How's the casting? Pretty darn good. Liam Neeson doesn't break a sweat, I'm starting to get the Bradley Cooper (although he still seems more like a parody of a sexy leading man than a real leading man, especially with that greasy hair and those jug handle ears), and the real triumph of casting is Sharlton Copley, the unexpected lead of District 9, who plays a cheerful lunatic that is reminiscent of Harry Dean Stanton in his salad days. (The young athlete hired to cover Mr. T's role is perfectly adequate, although as yet lacking a focused screen persona or any projection of charisma, but then he is traveling in fast company.)

Only a few other things to be said: In the final action sequence there is a close action mano-a-mano fight in which they do that fast "where are they-what is happening" sort of editing that has become popular. I don't object to that tool merely because it violates classical canons of editing--those canons can be violated for good reason whenever necessary. What I dislike about that superrapid editing is that it abandons narrative. It stops telling a story. One can no longer tell who is up, who is down, and--most importantly--denies the audience the chance to guess what will happen next, because they don't understand what's happening now. (This is not limited to me because I am a 54-year-old geezer. I saw the movie with my 22-year-old daughter, and she couldn't understand that part either. In fact, she brought the problem up.)

Empathy and identification is lost, and one is reminded that one is watching a movie. Moreover, there is nothing for the spectator to do in such a sequence but wait until it is over and then pick up the story again. "But I want to create the sense of being inside the fight, of sharing the disorientation that the character feels," says the action director. "Then, Mr. Director," say I, the experienced filmgoer, "you need a reaction shot of the disoriented character to convey that information. Otherwise I merely suspect that the editor is trying to disguise the fact that you, Mr. Director, didn't get the coverage." (By coverage, I mean the director failed to complete all the shots needed to tell the story of the sequence.)

Second, the ascendancy of Sharlto Copley suggests that screen acting is more of a knack than a profession like stage acting, and that you can have the skill innately without having to develop through years of training. That's not to denigrate the art; but it seems one can be a fairly skilled artisan in fairly rapid order if you are the right kind of person. None of this is a putdown of Copley. I love the guy and can't wait to see where he pops up next.

The final "switch" revealed by Cooper in his last close-up was probably done in films around 1912 in a film starring Harry Houdini. (Did you know Houdini made movies?) After some reasonably good twists and turnarounds in the body of the film, that last twist should have been more original. However, kudos to the producers and director for keeping the romance and sex angle otherwise under wraps, as the real audience is composed of 11-year-old boys and the Inner Eleven Year Old Boy that many of us harbor inside.

Finally, what's wrong with 20th Century Fox's publicity department? They seem to have released only about a half-dozen photos for use in connection with the movie. (The official site literally has about 25 shots, most of them close-ups of individual performers.) I've never had such little to choose from to illustrate a post about a contemporary film (hence the excerpt posted above). Did the set photographer screw up? There should be a lot more cool shots from this movie available as stills. Like stuff blowing up. Heaven knows--they blow a lot of stuff up!