Directed by Miguel Sapochnik
As it grafts together visuals, themes and plot points from every preceding futuristic sci-fi movie you can think of, Repo Men
also maneuvers its wily cyborg self into a very timely and little-explored section of the genre: healthcare allegory. Certainly, replacement organs bought on credit aren't the only things at stake in Miguel Sapochnik's nameless near-future American metropolis: pandemics, poverty and the privatization of public space have grown more out of control, and we're at war in Nigeria—or, as a news anchor puts it, "Operation Hope Springs Eternal." This larger world in total crisis isn't so crisply defined and constantly present just outside the frame as it appears in, say, Blade Runner
or Children of Men
, but mostly serves as introductory exposition to set a mood of end-of-days gloom and Orwellian dystopia.
Our guide to this alternately shiny and decrepit vision of the future is the city's top organ repossession agent, Remy (Jude Law), the leader of a squad of super-spy surgeons who visit customers of the Union too far behind on payments for their artificial livers, kidneys, ears, hearts, knees and what-have-yous. Despite the very bloody snipping and slicing montages, Remy and his top colleague and best buddy since childhood Jake (Forest Whitaker) go about their business with, well, businessman-like calm and composure. They are representatives of a mercenary corporate and capitalist culture taken to its extreme, extracting expensive and vital body parts with nearly mechanical efficiency while smiling and spouting pre-programmed public relations-speak. (Analogies to the collapse of global housing markets and skyrocketing foreclosure rates are also hard to miss.) Sapochnik and Eric Garcia
—the author of the novel Repossession Mambo
from which the film is adapted—envision the logical outcome of our for-profit healthcare system, one in which a slimy sales exec (a deliciously evil Liev Schreiber) will pitch payment plans on six-figure synthetic organs to dying parents in front of their teary-eyed kids.
The strengths of Repo Men
's arguments register as both absurdist social satire—as with the organ-shaped mascots stumbling around the Union sales office, or the company's ridiculous slogan: "The Union: putting more U in you"—and visceral aberration in the most gruesome mass repossession raids targeted at the subculture of black market organ dealers. There are also hints of deportation dramas and illegal immigration metaphor lingering in these dim bunker and labyrinthine shantytown busts. Meanwhile, such scenes afford some capable bone-crunching, face-hammering, throat-slashing and leg-sawing action that editor Richard Francis-Bruce and cinematographer Enrique Chediak handle better than most of their contemporaries of the Paul Greengrass handycam persuasion. But certain inextricable flaws diminish the force of the film's politics, particularly because of the slackened storytelling that connects the absorbing if occasionally jumpy and incoherent explorations of the opening act to the excellent, Philip K. Dick-ian finale.
Unwittingly turned into a Union debtor after an "accident" when he tries to repo a heart from RZA (who does well, playing RZA), Remy defaults on his own payments and goes rogue only to be pursued by his former colleagues—a la Montag in Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451
or Preston in Equilibrium
. On the lam after his icy wife (Carice van Houten, frustratingly under-used) kicks him out and keeps him from seeing their son, Remy hides in bombed-out buildings and reflects on his situation in excessive voice-overs, which turn out to be the makings of his memoir-within-the film, titled, of course, "Repossession Mambo." Obligatory fugitive sex is had with the very heavily mechanized and poorly developed love interest Beth (Alex Braga), who only comes into her own during the final set piece. Meanwhile there's all too little of the excellent, homosocially charged camaraderie between the film's actual first couple: Remy and Jake. In their scenes together Law, brooding behind his grin, and Whitaker, mumbling and placating with knowing over-eagerness, are excellent—particularly as compared to the formers ungainly chumming with Robert Downey, Jr. in the loathsome Sherlock Holmes
The slow mid-section is worth slicing through for the productively problematic, one step forwards-two steps back finale. Like so many genre films with fairly critical, not-so-submerged political subtexts, Repo Men
has a hard time imagining a solution to the crisis it sets in motion, beyond the obvious blowing up of shit—and even that gesture proves fundamentally impotent. Perhaps this future impasse testifies to our present-day politics' inability to create a way out of a much less entertaining version of the same problem. Because really, if a sexy super-agent played by Jude Law can't figure out an alternative to a healthcare industry that sometimes resembles a supermarket checkout line and elsewhere works like a loan office with mercenary claims investigators, what hope do we have?