Today’s the day that Joe Carnahan’s A-Team movie reaches UK DVD and Blu-ray shelves, well ahead of its US release. If you’re tempted to make a purchase, here are my recommended Five Things to know about the film and its special features first. I saw the Blu-ray edition, so not all comments will be applicable to the DVD.
They’ve really gone to town on A-Team leader Hannibal Smith’s philosophy in this film. If you know the original TV show then you’ll know his catchphrase “I love it when a plan comes together,” and this has provided the basis for an entire world view. He’s both obsessed with plans and planning, and is also a believer in some kind of divine destiny and fate. And while you might argue that his belief in the latter removes any need of the former, that’d intellectualising it more than the screenplay ever does. This simply seems to be a case of “Jam in every reference to ‘plans’ you can; that can pass for characterisation.”
Well, it doesn’t. Not nearly. You decide who’s missing the point: me for criticising the characterisation in an A-Team picture or the writers for attempting it in the first place.
The Blu-ray does have a rather clever, if possibly entirely useless, special feature that keeps track of the films many and sometimes interlinked plans for you, highlighting every time that any part of any plan is completed and making sure you know which plan it was part of. Creative and imaginative, but not exactly functional.
This film uses a quote from Mahatma Gandhi to justify not only violence but also murder. That’s the kind of moral tapestry they’re weaving here.
At one important point it’s suggested that BA Baracus has found some kind of religion while in jail. I expected him to tell us he had converted to Islam, and in a different time, I’m sure that’s how it would have been written. From this point on, Baracus says, he won’t kill anybody. This is reflected in his new, post-mohawk hairstyle. There’s a bit of sleight of hand with a woolly hat that builds up to a pay off wherein, not to spoil anything, Baracus returns to his violent ways – and to his mohawk too.
It’s a marked detour from the TV show which famously went to great lengths to avoid any on-screen casualties.
I found all of this stuff quite icky and rather uncomfortable. There’s a clue, early on, when we see Baracus flick a toy soldier with his finger that he’s got some odd attitudes to murder (you’ll get it when you see it), and from that shot all the way through, the character’s arc is quite unpleasant.
3. Mental Illness
Going beyond the film’s off-putting portrayal of violence and murder, there’s also some similarly grimace-inducing representations of mental illness.
The general presentation of Murdock’s personality and mental health issues are every bit as cliched and glib as you might imagine, and there’s even some nonsense about Murdock’s being resistant to electro-shock therapy, like it’s a special skill of his, something to boast of. There’s even a throwaway gag about a shot to the head making him sane.
4. Mauro Fiore
The film’s cinematographer is Mauro Fiore, following up Avatar with something a lot more conventionally produced. He goes for the kind of colourful-n-grainy look that, say, Tony Scott has been indulging in an awful lot of late. Fiore’s work in The Kingdom is probably the closest comparison on his own resume. It’s all capable stuff and a number of sequences are very well executed, at least in terms of the cinematography. His early experience on the second unit of Michael Bay films really couldn’t have hurt.
So is Fiore the man of the match? He is, I’m afraid. It’s good that his lighting and compositions are very well preserved, his blacks are nice and his colours are full and balanced on the Blu-ray. The film looks better on my TV than the typical, love-less factory farming multiplex would ever have managed. If nothing else, it’s a good looking disc and is the best representation of this currently fashionable style on my shelf. If you like the look of Domino, the Pelham 123 remake or The Kingdom, for example, then this disc will look stunning to you.
The original A-Team will best be appreciated as a piece of camp, and I guess the same is true of this picture too. There’s some truly outrageous nonsense scattered throughout this picture, including a parachuting tank that the A-Team steer by firing shells, and an overly complex, cheat-filled finale with talking dolls, a giant sized version of the cups-and-balls trick executed with a huge crane, and the kind of bait-and-switch twists that I’ve seen chewed over in a good number of pictures, not to mention episodes of Hustle, Leverage, and their ilk, several times already.
In other hands these set-pieces could have been played for their surreal, eccentric silliness, but there are regular attempts in this film to keep the idiocy grounded.
One of the special features is an approximately half-hour long Making Of. It’s pretty standard issue in structure and tone, but actually proves to be quite fascinating when trying to understand the filmmaker’s intent. Within seconds Carnahan is comparing his intent for The A-Team to Nolan’s work on Batman. This floored me: I can’t see it anywhere in the film at all. I promise you, I’ve tried, but I don’t see it. I think Carnahan really, honestly must have been aware that his film was lighter, camper, frothier, even more playful and less clenched and retentive than Nolan’s Batman reboot, but for whatever reason, he’s not coming out and saying it.
Also in this documentary: Bradley Cooper saying he signed on because Liam Neeson, who he specifically notes as having been in Schindler’s List, was going to be in the picture. The casting of Schindler, he says, tells him what kind of film Carnahan was aiming for – something serious, with weight to it. Riiiight.
Again, I don’t think Cooper really believed that for one second. So, in effect, the special features have become an official set of statements on the film that I honestly don’t think the cast and crew believed in. It’s all marketing.
It’s this contrast between the film’s being deliberately skitty and kitschy while the company line is that it’s dark and straight-up that I find most amusing.
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