Toss "Fight Club" and "Death Wish" in a blender, sprinkle on a handful of the same far-right-wing vigilante idealism that fueled numerous 70s macho action hits, shake vigorously to achieve that gritty, handheld "Bourne" look, and you've got "Outlaw," an angry, rough, and, sadly, flat-out boring revenge flick from writer/director Nick Love.
Love previously churned out such sweat-spit-and-fury flicks as "The Football Factory" and "The Business," making a name for himself in the world of cockney gangster cinema. With "Outlaw," Love turns away from soccer hooligans and crime fantasy and looks into his own political anger. Here, the filmmaker reveals frustration over that old standby: criminals running wild in the street and getting off with just a few slaps on the wrist. Granted, these are themes tackled by Charles Bronson and Clint Eastwood thirty-plus years ago, but Love puts a modern spin on the subject, expressing frustration over rampant crime in today's England.
What to do with these thugs? Bash 'em in the head with a baseball bat, of course. Sure, it's simplistic and brutish, but even a liberal pinko like myself can understand - and appreciate - the need to see hoods getting as good as they give. There's a primal catharsis for stories like this, where even the meekest can visualize the power a can of whoopass can deliver. (And for all my talk about Harry Callahan and Paul Kersey, the theme remains new; just last year we saw Jodie Foster strike back in "The Brave One.")
The problem with "Outlaw" isn't with its politics, but with its storytelling. Simply put, "Outlaw" is a snooze. It's the tale of several Londoners who, fed up with being pushed around, start a gang of their own and go medieval on those what done them wrong. There's no way a movie like this should be this dreadfully dull, and yet it is. Love, in an attempt to deliver "serious" commentary on issues of hopelessness, fear, and vigilante rage, envelops his film with a brooding, sluggish tone, with the movie's ultimate message - violence is out of control, but revenge only creates more violence - getting repeated much too often, to grating effect.
Some of the plot points are reportedly borrowed from real life, although I suspect this may not be true of the melodrama involving the attorney (Lennie James) stalked by all-powerful mobsters or the part in which the gun-totin' Iraq vet (Sean Bean, working in his lowest low-key yet) suggests the streets of London are worse off than those of Baghdad. Other characters, including the quiet groom (Love standby Danny Dyer) or the geeky security guard (Sean Harris) or the gay man (Rupert Friend) attacked by bashers, ring more true to life.
They all gather to hear the vet speechify about taking back the streets, and his "is you a man?!" posturing is meant to suggest the urban angst of "Fight Club" but ultimately comes off like a deleted scene from Tim Allen's "Joe Somebody." Later, when a disgruntled cop (Bob Hoskins, at his Bob Hoskinsiest) begins guiding this new gang of crime-busters from behind the scenes (using his knowledge of closed circuit monitoring to the team's advantage), the whole thing begins to slowly dip into a bit of superhero wish fulfillment.
Again, this would be no problem if Love had bothered to put any energy into the proceedings. But when Love's not filming violent outbursts (or the inexplicable Bean-vs.-cops shoot-out finale, in which Love completely loses track of his point), he barely seems to care, and so the movie mopes about, tinkering with flashy camera work instead of fleshing out characters or story. It's all to easy for the viewer to zone out while the men slowly drop their hesitation and (surprise!) ultimately turn into the violence-loving punks they once despised. Which is no surprise considering how much Love glamorizes the violence and leaves us yawning through the rest - who wouldn't want to escape the blahs of this movie with a little rough-'em-up?
Video & Audio
The anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) transfer perfectly captures the "Bourne" look of the film, with all those washed-out colors and blue-green tint coming through crisply. The shaky-cam look of the picture never causes any issues.
The downside: the 1.78:1 image is modified from the film's original 2.35:1 scope format. It looks as if this might be an open matte issue, with this transfer revealing a little extra room at the top and bottom of the frame. That may be better than cropping, but it's still very irksome - especially since the clips provided in the extras are shown in the original 2.35:1 format, just to rub it in, I suppose. What gives, Magnolia? Is 1.78:1 Love's preferred format, or are you just pulling a fast one?
The soundtrack booms in Dolby 5.1, with crystal clear dialogue (well, if you don't count the thick accents) and smart use of the surround speakers. A flat stereo mix is also included, as are optional Spanish subtitles.
The main attraction here is the commentary with Love and Dyer, who ramble on almost non-stop in a gloriously profane conversation about the film's creation and politics. They seem to talk at a thousand words a minute, and keeping up is a task.
In a move that is either inspired or abominable, depending on your point of view, Love placed ads asking people to pay to be extras in the film (and land an executive producer credit). Lucky for Love, quite a few folks bit. The "Big Hitters" featurette (16:29) is a video diary following these people as they cavort on set; the set-up is interesting, although it quickly devolves into little more than home video footage of everyday Brits excited to be making a real movie.
Nine deleted scenes (8:35 total) become redundant quickly, with plenty of news reports and side scenes repeating the movie's key themes.
"Outlaw Video Diaries" (15:04) allows Love to babble on even more about his film, with extra interviews from crew members such as the weapons prop guy and the costume wrangler. By this point, the repetition of "this country is a mess and men gotta be tough!" commentary is getting old.
"The Making of Outlaw" (30:57) is your standard batch of cast and crew interviews and on-set clips, with Love filling most of the talking-head footage. Strangely, it ends with a collection of critics' blurbs praising the film - a film you've presumably already seen, if you've gotten to the extras, making such a sales pitch pointless.
"The Rave & The Riot" (11:48) adds some extra detail on the making of two of the film's busiest scenes.
All bonus material is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, with film clips (as mentioned above) offered in a 2.35:1 format.
A batch of previews for other Magnolia titles plays as the disc loads.
An attractive batch of bonus material may help salvage the film's story (and aspect ratio) problems in the eyes of Brit-crime genre fans, who will do fine to simply Rent It.