At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Collateral Damage “02”

MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Action-Thriller/ Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Elias Koteas, Francesca Neri, Cliff Curtis, John Leguizamo, John Turturro, Lindsay Frost, Miguel Sandoval, Harry Lennix, Jane Lynch, Tyler Posey, Rick Worthy, Raymond Cruz, J. Kenneth Campbell, Michael Cavanaugh, Nicholas Pryor/ Runtime: 108 minutes

I feel it must be said that even though the horrific terrorist attack on 9/11 and the film Collateral Damage may not be a defining example of art coming to copy reality and vice-versa, an honor usually reserved for The China Syndrome and Three Mile Island, it can be said that the horrific events of that day did manage to put a temporary pause on this film’s initial release of October 2001. Indeed to be fair there are a few main similarities between what is real and what is fantasy in this case.  This includes the fact that the hero of the film, and a terror attack on a significant U.S locale leading to pain, tragedy, and chaos. Yet with those similarities out of the way, it should be noted that this film manages to nevertheless function as a popcorn, in every sense of the word, and run-of-the-mill film in the action genre that is full of the prerequisite amounts of both bombs and bullets, but one that also manages to construct an astonishingly emotional narrative, and even manages to include a few decent curves in the road to keep the film from going stale and the layout constantly changing. Indeed whilst this may not be a defining entry in the action genre, or even the best movie that director Andrew Davis or its lead star have ever made, this is still a good and enjoyable action film, and as is the case with a film that has Schwarzenegger in the lead role, well worth seeing if only to bear witness to Arnold’s sheer presence, exorbitantly high energy, and terrific sense of charisma all his own.

The plot is as follows: Collateral Damage tells the story of a firefighter operating out of Los Angeles by the name of Gordy Brewer. A man who is highly devoted and highly skilled: both in the art of being a terrific husband and father and in saving lives every day on the job. Sadly however, for every person out there trying to protect others, there are those who would rather kill them instead. A horrific fact that Gordy comes to learn when he tragically loses his wife and son in an explosion in downtown LA that was targeting some highly important officials from the US and Colombia with his wife and son being seen as little more than tragic casualties of war. Of course, as with such matters, from an official perspective the U.S. government cannot do much if anything to help Gordy avenge his loss seeing as they are in the midst of withdrawing all of their covert ops from Colombia, albeit with a high degree of reservation coming courtesy of a counter-terrorism expert by the name of Peter Brandt. However, from an unofficial stance, Brandt isn’t quite ready to simply let the terrorist responsible for the bombing, a deadly militant known as El Lobo, simply walk away. Yet when even Brandt and his team find themselves saddled with limitations, Gordy resolves to handle the matter himself. To that end, he begins to plan a risky and quite dangerous journey deep into the heart of the guerrilla operated territory where he plans to terminate, pun intended, the man who is behind the deaths of his family and who he remembers seeing at the detonation zone mere minutes before the bomb went off. However if getting in to the zone is difficult, then sneaking into the guerrilla’s base will be darn near impossible. Yet when Gordy happens upon a seemingly sweet and kind woman named Selena, he finds within himself a strengthened determination to keep going; something that will be immensely helpful when Gordy uncovers new intel both about his prey as well as another quite catastrophic attack being planned on U.S. soil. Yet as Gordy will soon come to learn, initial appearances can be quite deceiving and in the world of terrorism, nothing and no one are usually as they seem…

Now even though it was delayed, to a lot of people I feel that this film may have been a film that in many respects America desperately needed following the horrific events on 9/11. For starters it has one of the most famous Action stars of all time in Arnold Schwarzenegger in the lead role. A positive because not only are the characters Arnold is known for portraying 98% of the time usually affable and quippy, but they are also tough and capable of extraordinary things from a physical standpoint. Plus that’s not even going into Arnold’s phenomenal yet eerie talent for mixing together a relatability, as larger than life as he may be, with a wonderful talent for kicking serious bad guy butt. Thus in this film, we get the stage set for a gung-ho, patriotic, “Made in the USA” kind of film with the fact that the lead is played by an Austrian muscular titan simply managing to strengthen not only the feeling and unity felt in the aftermath of 9/11, but also a deep comprehension of what makes America great as personified by a man who, despite being from another country, has in his own way come to become no less than an international icon of American cinema. Thus even though this movie is not a perfect film by any stretch of the imagination, you cannot deny that a film like this one, released in the direct aftermath, but still with enough time to let the initial shock and despair of the incident ebb away slightly, is pretty potent material to both get the country back on its feet again and to also remind each and every one of us that there is a time and place for all of us to fight for what we believe in, but to make sure that our reason for doing so is not out of some petty and misguided sense of vengeance lest we become that which we are fighting. In fact the main narrative theme behind the film deals primarily with just how individuals choose to respond when facing against potent and deep anger and hatred. Indeed the fact that the film doesn’t choose to give us a clear as day answer, and also provides some deep material for the lead to work with, I feel makes the film’s main idea that much more potent in the world around us.

Now as for the cast in this film they all seem to be aware that the movie they are acting in is no serious awards contender, but rather an engaging popcorn action film, and to that extent they all manage to do wonderful work for the kind of film that this is. This of course starts with Ahnuld in the lead, and yet even though there are a lot of elements in this which check off the boxes for what to expect, he also manages to provide a surprising degree of pathos in this role by giving us a man who is only doing this because he feels he is not being given justice and who quickly finds just how thin a line exists between justice and revenge. Not only that, but Gordy may be big and muscular, but he is used to saving people not killing them. As such, we actually see Arnold manage to get his butt handed to him a time or two in this rather than the indestructible almost-machine like Arnold from such 80’s gems as Commando and, of course, The Terminator. As for the supporting cast they all do decent work with the material that they are given from Leguizamo and Tuturro in extended cameos to Elias Koteas delightfully playing Brandt as a jerk albeit one who could be your best buddy….if the circumstances were right and Cliff Curtis who brings a wonderful air of nonchalant menace as the object of Arnold’s search.

Now as I said previously, when looking at this a film that was removed from what would’ve most certainly been quite a significant amount of controversy due to Hollywood having the heart to move it on down the line, the movie still manages, even without that, to work just fine as a rumble and tumble popcorn Action movie. Albeit one that is actually grittier and more pathos-heavy than you might be expecting as well as the ingredients in play of a cast of more complex and three-dimensional characters at play in this thus differing itself significantly from earlier Arnold films such as Commando. Yet it is also safe to say that this humanizing extends beyond the action and the various curves in the narrative. In fact, the aspect of the film that Arnold never really uses a lot of weaponry and instead chooses to utilize more tech skill, observation, smarts, and raw human determination rather than an arsenal to handle this is more than enough to separate the film from the pack and manage to make it feel more relatable than it could have been otherwise. Not only that, but the cast of characters in this narrative more fully realized than they might be in a “generic” action film and we also get a riveting narrative about how people allow their circumstances to mold who they become and how they utilized violence and agony either for sinister means or to put a cap on the on-going violence rather than spread it farther. It is also worth mentioning that the director of this film, A Mr. Andrew Davis, manages to sculpt this film with a harder edge than to be expected even whilst the movie reaps the benefits of looking both polished and composed together by someone who knows how. Indeed Collateral Damage may not be the iconic film that Davis’ own ’Under Siege was in 1992, and it will never be the masterpiece that was his adaptation of The Fugitive, but it still manages to succeed in its own right.

All in all Collateral Damage is most certainly an example of a film that is viewed a little bit more differently than it may have been had it simply been no more than just another film in the film genre known as Action that was made in a world before the fateful day known as 9/11. Yet the intriguing thing is that even though this film is run-of-the-mill in many respects, it’s still hard for a select group of audience members to watch due to the memory of the day that caused this film to be delayed. Separated from that aspect however, the fact remains to be seen that Collateral Damage “02” is actually a not-bad Arnold film that possesses both a cast of characters and a set of motivations a bit deeper than they normally come, and in the world surrounding the movie as it is the film itself, actually manages to function not only as a reminder of the eternal conflict between good versus evil, but also offers a look at just how violence can mold a man for good or for ill. Any way you choose to look at it however, it should be said that Collateral Damage is at the least a decently-made popcorn action movie that also serves as a middle-of-the-road Arnold film and a better than expected entry in the Action genre of film. On a scale of 1-5 I give Collateral Damage “02” a solid 3 out of 5.