I don’t get it.
I should rephrase. I do get it. I get what the film is discussing – it is trying to give a commentary on the need for an overhaul of the health care industry. But it is not an effective one, nor does it have an effective script, nor does it have any sense of fun. I will tell you something; a satire need have the tongue in the cheek in order to be effective. This film has absolutely no sense of fun. Plus the ending; oh the ending. I dare not reveal it here, but let me just say it is one of the most dissatisfying I have seen in quite some time. It makes M Night Shaylaman look like O. Henry.
The film, based on the novel The Repossession Mambo by Eric Garcia (which I have read and which the film changes quite a bit – the more obtuse parts of the film were not present in the novel) is, about a future in which artificial organs (they are referred to as “artiforg.”) The organs come with huge payments and even larger interests. When people cannot keep up the payments for their organs, the company (known as “The Union” throughout) sends mercenaries to collect their property. Two such men are Remy (Jude Law) and Jake (Forrest Whitaker) are two such men. Remy becomes greatly injured on the job and gets an artiforg for himself. Suddenly, he finds he cannot perform his job (he sympathizes with the victims too much) and falls behind on his payments, bringing the wrath of his boss Frank (Liev Schrieber) and Jake. He finds a woman named Beth (Alice Braga….City of God must feel like so long ago to her) who has had pretty much every organ replaced and attempts to find a way to have himself and her removed from the system.
Was there anything wrong with the original novel. It makes great airport reading and actually says something about the health care industry. This film may, but it is done with the tone of a man standing on the street corner shouting. This film desperately hates the current health care system in a way that is actually quite disquieting. So many scenes showcase “evil” businessmen who try to take advantage of sick people, as well as callous repo men who are merely “doing a job” and feel nothing about it. “I am legally required to ask if you would like to have an ambulance on standby” Remy asks multiple times – as quickly as he possibly can so he can get on with the slicing.
You know what? This could have still worked. But it does not because the film is so over the top that whatever message it conveys is lost. Let us start with Remy. He is meant to be our hero, standing up for the people who have been destroyed by the system. But he is completely selfish throughout the film. Yes, even when he starts proclaiming that he is speaking for the people, he is only doing so on the guise of saving himself. Plus, the way he deals with his attackers can be described as nothing but brutal. He is a rather distasteful figure, and what’s more, he is not clearly defined either. Satire, to work, needs at least a character who remains stable so we can observe them as they remain the same despite the world changing.
The film basically has no sense as to what it means to really be a satire. The characters are poorly thought out, no specific thought is given to the themes outside of “private health care bad” same with the same sort of gusto as Orwell’s bleating sheep, and the settings are pretty much just copy pasted from Blade Runner. It all feels so formulaic and committee drawn that anything the film was trying to say becomes lost over the cries of the people shouting at which design they wanted to see in the city.
And the ending. It is tacked on in a way that suggest the people who wrote it were trying to appear smart and edgy with the indie crowd, but fails. I cannot say much, but I will say that merely adding a twist for the sake of adding a twist is not good story telling. The novel had no such problems – in fact, the film hints at the novel’s ending. Not so here. The ending is, truly, some sort of Mobius strip. It goes nowhere but seems to have come from absolutely nowhere.
Does the film do anything particularly well? No. Everything that doesn’t go wrong is merely standard – the typical Hollywood approach in that any film cannot possess ideas without being edited to dilute the power of them. In technical terms, it’s fantastic. In practical terms, it means nothing. What do you want me to say? That Jude Law and Forrest Whitaker do not do a bad job with their characters? They don’t, but then they don’t try to make the characters stand out in any way, shape, or form. You watch them, then forget about them. Not even the fake organs look that well thought out. Same with the cinematography, the editing, everything. Pretty much the only thing I remember is the mambo soundtrack – mostly because it was comically out of place (and seemed to be the filmmaker’s sort of “take that” to the similarly themed Repo! The Genetic Opera). The film needed more moments like that. It needed someone to inject a sense of fun. Instead it is a cold, sterile affair that would be better to be missed.
Oh, and in closing, one scene in the film features the “Live Organ Donor” scene from Monty Python’s Meaning of Life. This is an example of one property doing everything right while the other does everything on. I think you can guess which is which.