Posted by: gdevi | May 29, 2010

Movie Review: Outlaw (2007)

Imagine you are a very nice person and you go to work and you work with conviction at what you are doing. Imagine now that you really piss off some very bad people in the line of your work; nothing personal, you were just doing your work but the bad people have taken it personally. Now imagine that the very bad people threaten you by hinting that they know that your wife that you love very much is pregnant in a menacing tone while you are in the men’s room. Men threatening other men in a toilet is the classic metonymy for anxieties of emasculation. Outlaw is the English director Nick Love’s movie about a vigilante posse of men who feel they have been wronged and rendered powerless, emasculated, by a society and a police force that have let social crime get out of control. The hero is Danny Bryant played by Sean Bean in an appropriately asthmatic manner which works because he is a veteran back from Iraq and Afghanistan where he has seen unspeakable cruelty that has totally made him lose his faith in mankind. He hyperventilates, snarls and every facial move is a painful twitch. It is all too much to watch in the comfort of your home; where did this popcorn come from? Who killed who to bring this popcorn to you tonight? You understand?

So anyway, Danny comes back from the Middle East fighting all those terrorists only to find that his significant other has changed the locks on their door and is now kneading her fingers inside another man’s palms. (I didn’t make that one up; this is the actual close-up in the movie). So much for being a soldier and fighting for your country when your government cannot even promise you that your significant other will wait for you.  Naturally this sends Danny over the edge but he doesn’t kill the woman; instead he checks into some sort of boarding house where the motel security guard amuses himself by watching what the boarders are doing on the security cameras installed everywhere. Most of the boarders are constantly having sex and much to the security guard’s relief he discovers that the latest resident is not into sex, but into guns. The security guard–he is one of the emasculated men who join the posse–knows his guns, and he instantly figures out that this ain’t no ordinary thug, but an army vet. The security guard’s office is wall-papered with newspaper reports of all the unsolved crimes, terrible street crimes, knifing attacks, failed justice, all the horrible things happening in England, the terrible news about how the police force has failed the common man on the street.

There is an allegorical level to this movie though it is a bad one. Is the security guard, for instance, us, the viewers at home who want to see more and more violence? Is the CCTV the media? Anyway, the security guard convinces four horribly wronged men to join Danny Bryant and himself and learn how to be tough and to mete out the long-overdue justice to the violent criminals roaming the British streets. There are the usual ethical and moral dilemmas for our benefit–should we take justice into our own hands? Should we or should we not? Oh what the heck! Let’s!–and the “outlaws” start going after the violent criminals who escaped the justice system through influence-peddling, bribery and corruption. Under Bryant’s mentorship, they quickly transform themselves from being wuzzes to goons who can whack the life out of you with pipes, knives, bats–you name it, they got it and they are not afraid to use it. The undeniable and morally problematic return of the repressed content in all this violent meting out of justice is the haunting images of American and British soldiers torturing Iraqi prisoners inside the Abu Ghraib prison. For instance, the vigilantes like to hood the criminals they catch before they break their knees and shoot them; their preferred mode of execution is standing them hooded on a box which they will kick off. So in the end, what our soldiers are doing in Iraq is just meting out just punishment. The Iraqi political prisoners caught in an aggressive invasion are just like the violent thugs that roam our streets. They can be killed. No questions asked. See why the allegory is dishonest and bad?

But in civilized societies, vigilantism is not a good thing and the movie winds down with the posse being hunted by the police and all of them except the young white-collar professional get killed in police shoot-outs. I don’t want to spoil the ending in case you plan on seeing this movie–don’t, if you ask my advice–but let us just say that, I think there is potential here for a Charles Bronson-Death Wish 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 ad nauseum franchise here if Nick Love markets his characters correctly.

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