Collateral Damage (2002)

Directed by Andrew Davis

I wanted something that was big-budget; maybe an action-adventure kind of thing. But for some reason, I couldn’t find anything that twigged my interest. Though not originally intending to, I settled for Collateral Damage, the most recent addition to the Arnold Schwarzenegger canon. (I always have to check the DVD case to be sure I’m spelling his name properly.)

Despite my reticence, and despite some negative reviews, I discovered this is a pretty good movie. Not great, mind you, but pretty good. And it may be that the most interesting aspect of this movie is Arnold’s performance – he’s becoming a much better, broader actor, if you can believe it.

The story is nothing new. It’s simply a variation of what we’ve seen so many times before. This isn’t really a bad thing, though. Movies such as this aren’t about revealing great truths about life and the universe and so on; they’re about repeating an experience we enjoy. We don’t experience a roller-coaster once then never ride one again. We may, however, try a different roller-coaster.

Collateral Damage tries to be a different roller-coaster. It tries to do a variation of the expected Arnold Schwarzenegger storyline. In this case, he’s a fireman (his expertise isn’t guns this time, it is fire). He’s a family man – wife and child. A terrorist bomb kills his family. Arnold’s goal? Get the terrorist(s) responsible.

This is really all that anyone needs to know about the story. If you’ve seen one Schwarzenegger movie then you can easily image the rest of the film.

However, as mentioned, the film tries some variations and also tries to work with certain themes (though this is limited given the constraints of making this kind of film – you aren’t permitted to take time to develop ideas since this necessitates slowing the pace). One of the variations the film tries (as with the earlier End of Days) is a slight reworking of the Schwarzenegger character. While still the hero, it attempts to make him not quite as powerful as he appeared in earlier films. His goal is harder to accomplish; the bad guys are a bit more grey. His obstacles are not always tangible.

In the earlier parts of the film (and to a lesser extent, throughout) Arnold is also given more emotional range and surprisingly he comes across quite well. This Arnold may be motivated by anger but he is also burdened with grief and Schwarzenegger does a good job communicating this. I think, given his public image and our stereotypes etc., we assume Schwarzenegger can’t act. Hell, he’s a body builder for heaven’s sake! But somehow between Arnold and director Andrew Davis a convincing performance has been put on screen. And while this may be surprising to us, it may simply be that we don’t give Schwarzenegger the credit he deserves because of the types of films he appears in and his public image.

I think Davis and screenwriters David Griffiths and Peter Griffiths have also brought something to the film we generally don’t get from action-adventure movies and that is a modicum of thoughtfulness. While constrained by the demands of the genre, they manage to muddy the waters between the good guys and bad guys. In fact, the film even plays with the archetypes to a degree which allows for an ending that takes a bit of a left turn.

Turning to the DVD, it’s pretty much what you would expect from a recent, big budget film: excellent sound and video. The image is very crisp, very clean, and colours seem to be bang-on. The extras are interesting and sufficient to deserve the term “special features” with two featurettes, trailer, director commentary and additional scenes.

While not a great movie, this is certainly a good, interesting action film in the Schwarzenegger tradition. While the events of September 11 had an impact on the film because of the nature of the story’s catalyst – a terrorist bombing – I think it would be a mistake to think of the film in the light of those events (though it may be impossible not to). This type of movie is exactly that – a type. It requires as a set-up the kind of event it uses – a bombing. And while the film does address some of the issues raised by September 11 (in a roundabout way), it is essentially an action film and these, by their very nature, simplify causes and effects.

Of course, having written the above, it may be that Collateral Damage actually approaches the kind of action film we need to see now – something slightly less simple than we’re use to; something slightly less cathartic than we would like.

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