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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Avenger
Avenger
Warner Bros. // Unrated // October 3, 2006
List Price: $19.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by David Cornelius | posted November 28, 2006 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
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A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
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P R I N T
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Any chance to see Sam Elliott be a badass for ninety minutes is fine by me.

The movie is "Avenger," adapted from the novel by Frederick Forsyth for the TNT cable network. Its plot is merely an afterthought - aging mercenary tracks down Bosnian warlord, eluding CIA agents along the way - and is but a thread on which we hang the coolness that is Sam Elliott. Here he is in all his Sam Elliottness: craggy, leathery, his bass voice booming, ready to kick ass and take names, and never mind the names. We are asked to believe that this Vietnam vet can overtake a room full of thugs and outwit an army of government agents and cause many things to be exploding, and we cheerfully say, "why, yes, of course, it is Sam Elliott, he can do that."

And when that is not enough, the screenplay (from Alan Sharp, scripter of "Rob Roy" and "The Osterman Weekend") is kind enough to ask Sam Elliott to say something oh-so-very-cool in that particular Sam Elliott drawl of his. When informed by a potential employer that before hiring he prefers to "look a man over," Sam Elliott replies, "I prefer to be overlooked." Later, he profoundly declares, "I haven't given up my faith in the law. It's justice I'm having my doubts about." (This matches his pickup truck's bumper sticker, which reads "No Peace Without Justice." Consider that while looking down the barrel of whatever gun Sam Elliott has in his hand.)

"Avenger" revels so much in its very Sam Elliottitude that it never matters how ludicrous the story itself may become - although, to be fair, the goings-on are more of the "mildly silly" variety of espionage-action-adventure than of the "preposterous" kind. Sam Elliott plays Calvin Dexter, a Vietnam vet and former "tunnel rat" whose daughter was killed two years back by a greasy foreigner (whom Dexter promptly tracked down and offed). These days, when not discussing the Wisdom Of The Ages with the kindly Old Asian Lady who watches over him, he works as a man-for-hire, in this case taking the job of locating a millionaire's missing son, who disappeared during an humanitarian visit to the war torn nation. He is also a lawyer, because that's the kind of silly we're working with here.

Again: doesn't matter. Dexter pulls no punches in Bosnia, uncovering a nasty truth involving a warlord, a massacre of innocents, and a muck-filled pit in which corpses were dumped. Nasty stuff, to be sure; for a made-for-basic-cable movie, it, too, pulls no punches, and many scenes are daring in their uncomfortable treatment of modern horrors.

The rest of the plot involves Dexter attempting to find the warlord and the CIA attempting to find Dexter - there's some nonsense about a weapons deal between terrorists or whatever, and Dexter's meddling just might botch the operation. All this means is that every now and then we're asked to watch James Cromwell get all sinister as the deputy chief of the CIA and Timothy Hutton as his bumbling assistant grumble about how Dexter has to be stopped.

Despite the potential for complex storytelling, "Avenger" remains decidedly simple, its screenplay relatively free of genuine surprises. It even gets a bit too obvious at times; flashbacks to the death of Dexter's daughter and the murder of her killer drag the film a bit in their efforts to add depth to the character, especially since Elliott himself is capable of supplying his own depth without any interference from the editing booth.

"Avenger" works anyway, mostly because of Elliott, of course, but also because director Robert Markowitz ("Word of Honor," "The Tuskegee Airmen") understands that we're all in on how things are going to work out so why not just focus on the mood of the thing? And so we get long, cool shots of Sam Elliott in action (both of the "action" and "spy stuff" sort); sweeping vistas of the African countryside; cold, creepy shots of Bosnian scenes-of-the-crime; and so on. So while "Avenger" doesn't earn points for originality, it scores again and again for its sheer coolness.

It is, after all, nonstop Sam Elliott. And nothing's cooler.

The DVD

Video


For a TV movie, "Avenger" looks darn sharp in this solid anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) transfer. Colors are rich, the vistas are clear. Even for a brand new production, it's impressive.

Audio

The Dolby 5.1 mix keeps everything mostly up front, using the surround feature sparingly. Optional Spanish subtitles are available.

Extras

None.

Final Thoughts

The film looks and sounds great, and it's plenty fun, too. Recommended to anyone in the mood for some slick revenge-fueled action. If/when the price goes down to make up for the lack of bonus material, consider it bumped up to Highly Recommended. Because, come on, man, Sam Elliott!

(A final Final Thought: Throughout the film, I couldn't shake the notion that "Avenger" might be the pilot for a Calvin Dexter TV series. The hints are there - mainly in a few side characters that seem to come and go without much relevance to the plot yet who would make for terrific sidekicks in future adventures. The idea of a series in which Sam Elliott kicks ass every week gives me hope for humanity. Fingers crossed.)
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