This is my favorite line from…drum roll please…the new single man army, prison break, protect the girl movie that I forced my family to see with me last week. I needed an upbeat story that put an exclamation point on my soul depressing week…come see what all my hoopla is about…
Lockout (2012) is a French science fiction action film directed by James Mather and Stephen St. Leger, and written by them with Luc Besson. The film stars Guy Pearce as Snow, an ex-CIA agent, Maggie Grace as the President’s daughter, Emilie Warnock, Vincent Regan as Alex the convicts’ leader, Joseph Gilgun as his ‘off his rocker’ brother, Hydell, Lennie James as Shaw, the nice-cop Secret Service handler, and Peter Stormare as Langral, the bad-cop head of Secret Service.
This is what the official Lockout site had to say about their movie: “Starring Guy Pearce and Maggie Grace and set in the near future, “LOCKOUT” follows a falsely convicted ex- government agent (Pearce), whose one chance at obtaining freedom lies in the dangerous mission of rescuing the President’s daughter (Grace) from rioting convicts at an outer space maximum security prison.”
—Yay! Kiss…Purr~ Moment
sar·don·ic [sahr-don-ik] adjective
characterized by bitter or scornful derision; mocking; cynical; sneering: a sardonic grin. See Snow.
Yep. Sardonic was the right way to describe almost every word out of his mouth. Of course, Guy Pierce really made it all work. Isn’t it funny how bitterness can uplift the soul?
—Pro and Cons: A Review
As I was fast-forwarding through some commercials I saw the trailer for Lockout flick by. At first Guy Pearce looked like Ryan Reynolds and I thought oh no, not more of the Green Lantern from him! When I saw it was really Guy Pearce I was relieved and perhaps that added to the intrigue. I determined to see this in my quest to expand the number of movies I watch this year (as compared to the dismal number from 2011 – read here). And I got the chance opening night!
I know, I know, so unlike me. I even walked out of the theater with my post’s title already forming in my brain… My brother (and regular movie watching companion) tends to the plot hole poking variety and fulfilled that role for this movie as well. What really stood out for me is that I didn’t care that I had to reach a little to make the setup for the movie work. Why was that? Well, Guy Pearce and Maggie Grace really sucked me in and made me care about them.
The look of the film is appropriately space like; everything grey and military grade. Set in the not too distant future of 2079, the space ships are reminiscent of NASA and the prison station of Star Trek, either classic or a dingy Next Generation, you pick. Earth too fits the time frame, seamy and dark, everything worn and old yet ships zip through the sky and computers are utilized for every function of life. With these kind of cramped quarters down on earth it makes sense a global company would want to expand into space and understand what effects that expansion would have on the human body. Of course, population levels have exploded and every inch of ground is needed for society benefiting citizens. (This is one of the few premises that I don’t really buy. With all the hype surrounding ideas of over-population from the 70s and 80s this is an assumption most modern people make. The simple fact is our population is decreasing. Most modern couples don’t even bother to replace themselves but stick with a single representation of their love if that. In fact, estimates find most of the developed countries’ populations dropping sharply in the next decade and more.)
No new ground is broken here, setting wise, there is just an attempt at making a prison orbiting the earth plausible. The stasis cells of the inmates make physical sense and the idea of them worked well with the reason why the President’s daughter would visit a SuperMax prison she had to ride a spaceship to reach.
Where the story really excelled lies in the characters and the refreshing of an old idea. The writers took every moment of the movie to establish the details of the situation, create a sense of what kind of man Snow is and to make us root for a rather spoiled “princess” of a woman. Anything else was stripped down to nuts and bolts. This is one of the things I really enjoyed about the movie and probably it’s biggest flaw. When everything can be connected back cleanly and easily to the forward movement of the plot the audience tends to find it contrived and plot hole poking worthy. This isn’t necessarily true but it feels like it is and typically what people assume is true is true irregardless of actual reality. For me I really enjoy this part of any piece of work as I can sense the decision making process and can intuit right away if they went with an idea just to move on with the plot.
So for me, I’m not really caught up in the plot hole poking business, I’m rather more concerned with character and motivations. If you lay the foundations of character properly (even if not with the most expert of skill) then action will rise from their motivations and desires without you having to work very hard. The true skill in writing and movie-making is laying the foundation so it’s not so readily apparent how those characters came into being. This latter skill is the rarer of the pair as the ways you go about doing so can take you down many a route. I’d say this is rather moot as really only the former is the case with Lockout. This is still impressive as not many action movies can lay claim to much more than the most superficial of foundations in characters or otherwise.
The actors here, some call them endearingly B-rate, really go a long way in making this very simple foundation work for the movie. The surprising thing about the protagonists is how beefy they wrote Maggie Grace’s role as the President’s daughter, Emilie Warnock. She’s not just your token female but woven into the fabric of the plot with an effect equally so on all the pertinent characters. Of course, on Snow but also on Langral and her father, the president, both Alex and Hydell and even Shaw in an indirect way.
Guy Pearce, I can’t say it enough, is the best of a reluctant hero, full of sardonic whit and slingy one-liners everyone wants to quote. There were so many I couldn’t remember then all… I love the one I used for my title, “Dude, you’re a dude” because it focuses on a moment that really clues you in on why Lockout worked…Snow and Emilie are heading into the stasis cell area full of crazed, maddened convicts who aren’t quite right any more, if they ever were to begin with. She’s dressed in an orange jumpsuit with a mixture of grease and muck on her head and can’t help but cringe into Snow’s side. She’s forced to stand on her own and shadow him without acting the weak female.
Snow and Emilie are balanced well, both with their own agenda and willing to do what they have to in order to accomplish it. They are equals and when their shortcomings make them want to abandon the whole to-do, the other backs them up.
So the protagonists are good, what about the antagonists? A story is only as good as the weakest character…Alex and Hydell balance the heroes well and give them a run for their money. My favorite is Alex as the crafty leader of the convicts, his brain is obviously adjusted for hard use as he is one of the handful not left mentally disturbed after his time in a coma. After gathering the other sane convicts he quickly establishes control of the situation. Clearly he’s as capable as Snow and without anyone impeding him, capable of getting off the station alive and kicking.
Except for his one weakness, Hydell, his baby brother and the one probably responsible for his presence in the SuperMax prison to begin with. I think Vincent Regan is a very underutilized actor who could stand to take on bigger and better roles that this one. One critic hated on Joseph Gilgun’s performance, referring to his portrayal as overacting at a breakneck speed. I agree about the breathlessness of his performance but I felt it fit the tone of the movie, no over-acting involved.
The plot is so basic that it can be summed up in four lines, one of which is taken with listing the actors involved in the production. Because of this you’d think that the forward movement of the story would be rather basic as well. I found that because the writers started with good characters the plot actually took some unexpected turns on a typical stereotype. I really found these turns to make the story fresh and to rather invigorate an otherwise basic premise. Best of all they left me anticipating the dashing do of our estimable Snow and how he was going to overcome the next insurmountable task. While my butt was in my seat I wanted to know what was going to happen next, I cared about the characters and I found the plot fresh enough not to be able to predict what was going to happen next.
Yes, it’s easy to poke holes in this premise and to call the elements of plot stereotypical. But does Lockout really deserve these criticisms? Dude, I’d say not. That isn’t to say the movie is perfect. It doesn’t quite carry off it’s reality, the details are too thin and the framework too apparent. It doesn’t mean you can’t immensely enjoy Guy Pearce as Snow or Maggie Grace as Emilie. With it’s handful of villains nipping at their heels the deck is formidably stacked against them but Snow is clearly the man for the job.
I saved all my spoilers for the writing portion of my post so if you haven’t seen the movie and want to… STOP READING NOW.
Many times when you watch a movie like this reviewers will say something along the lines of: “great turn off your brain fun” or “mindless popcorn movie.” This makes me roll my eyes and cross that movie off any list I might have to watch. It’s not that every movie I see needs to be weighed down with intellectual nonsense either. I don’t need some sort of do-good or do no bad message either.
What I want is a good story (see it doesn’t even need to be excellent) with great characters and the proper structure to carry both to the conclusion of the movie. This doesn’t sound like a lot to ask. People have been making movies for over a hundred years and many of the best are black and white so why is story creation so difficult? It’s because all the elements have to come together.
Lockout isn’t a perfect example of a movie but it does do what most mindless popcorn movies don’t do and that’s build the story with the little details that start bringing the elements together. (This is where the spoilers come in.)
Snow, it is quickly made apparent, is a reckless, full boar ahead, trained operative who is in a sticky situation, not a new experience for him in the least. I really enjoyed how they established this while also setting up the situation in which he currently finds himself. The opening sequence does this quite well while also explaining his current predicament. I really can applaud the fact they showed us and didn’t tell us. I loved the motorcycle chase, the run and leap through the building and the timing to get that briefcase to his partner while he himself is being arrested. The visuals meshed nicely with all this because it was clearly the future but also not so clean and neat that nothing could get by the technology. I liked that they started off with a snarky comment too so you knew right away that’s how he would continue.
Emilie, is the president’s daughter and a rather idealistic girl who hasn’t really been tested in life because she’s always had it good. I liked the slow build for her. At first she was just your typical snooty piece of goods that the protagonist would have to lug around until he could get her ass off the station. She obviously isn’t too bright as she’s looking straight at this crazed, druggie, mass murderer, rapist, want to torture her if he could prisoner and trying to get him to be serious about her concern and questions when all he wants is to proceed to the above. I have to admit when she dragged herself out of the exploded cell and hid I was caught up in her predicament. It really helped that it wasn’t some idiotic mistake on her part but the equally idiotic Secret Service detail that caused all the trouble.
Now I mention this because this is one of the details I’m talking about. Many times in this kind of movie in order that everything be connected to one of the main characters it would be her fault, however improbable, that everything went bad. And the fact he made this idiotic mistake is quite legitimate. In a normal prison it wouldn’t be a problem if a prisoner got a weapon as they’d just lock the cell down and worst case scenario you’d die and it would be your own fault. We knew because of the dialogue with the warden and because of the balance already illustrated with Snow’s introduction that space living is still a relatively new technology and there are still many bugs to work out. Now I admit that it’s relatively clear what would happen. It’s not been over thought or mangled into anything other than it is…a way to get to the meat of the story.
I can admire though how they backed themselves up with solid thinking and supported everything in the course of the setup. (One of the few places their thinking faltered was the inmates stumbling out of their cells frozen. A cool looking effect but no basis in reality.) It made sense to me the warden would have mentioned the difficulties as he’s trying to convince her to smooth over the problems and just support the station like a good president’s daughter should. They already established the level of technology through Snow’s setup, like I mentioned, so it did double duty, always a good thing in story elements. Sure it’s a stereotypical situation to have the Secret Service agent sneak in an extra gun but it makes sense why he thought it wouldn’t be a problem. Now an American movie maker would have supplied a logical reason why the Secret Service agent would do this – threats against the president or the daughter, etc. This is probably where most critics are like, see, you’re wrong about the movie being well developed.
I disagree. This is where character rose it’s ugly head…the guy was just arrogant. He didn’t think anyone else could do as good a job as him protecting Emilie and in order to do his job he felt he needed a gun. Simple as that. That’s why I admire the detail development. You know he’s arrogant because he got close, beating on the prisoner when he didn’t need to, it was just to show his superiority. You have to balance the foreshadowed elements with assumed elements with the logical you conclude based on the facts you’ve been given elements.
Now this Secret Service agent in his rash desire to do his duty and do it by himself gets Emilie into another life threatening situation in a locked room. Still his actions correspond to his character, his belief system and the arrogance established before through assumption. Further his killing himself when he realized he would fail fit in as well. It was also rather unexpected, as at first thought you’d assume he’s selfish as well as arrogant. I believe he’d rather die than prove to himself his faith in his abilities far outmatched his real skills. It also rid the audience of an element that was fast approaching annoying and which would have soured us on the movie if it had proceeded. It also pushed the story along by buying Snow a few more minutes.
Going back to Emilie though I really appreciated how they made her injury work for the plot and not in the typical way. Because she was injured a girl took compassion on Emilie and dressed her wounds. That same girl was shot by Hydell after a deal was made to trade Emilie because she was injured. It even made sense when Hydell initially shot her as he was trying to make her easier to capture so he could torture, rape and kill her. The leg is the best place. Besides the physical plot arising from this wound we also see the experience with the girl working on Emilie’s psyche. She struggles between letting Snow put her ahead of everyone like she has in the past or putting herself in danger to help others.
The movie continues in this vein as Snow pursues finding his partner, Mace, his true reason in coming to the prison station. There is a really funny scene when he tries to pawn a map and an empty gun off on Emilie and send her on her way, except she can’t read the map and he isn’t such a bastard as to write her off. The two spar here in a rather classic couple sort of way but this was part of the charm of Lockout, unexpected humor juxtaposed with very real violence. When we do finally find and meet this super bad ass spy Mace he has been reduced to gobbly gook. This is rather poignant as the audience had started to look forward to meeting this man from the little we knew and now everything’s gone to hell. Now this is a stereotypical death of a now useless character, but an innovative way for Emilie to get the information to find the briefcase and not Snow (as he was trying to find something to pry the door open).
Where Lockout really faltered was at the end. There was so much lost potential with Alex and Hydell, the villains. Alex clever and motivated with the true skills to get off that station and Hydell ruthless enough to do what it takes if he could only get his priorities straight. The problem with them lay not in their development or even their plot but their ending. The writers knew where they wanted the brothers to end up…Hydell stabs his brother and then slaughters the hostages. Neatly tying up the smart villain and the hostages that were always going to be left behind. Too neatly tying up. This is why I object to characters like Hydell. I get him killing his brother but he can’t be used as a rag to sop up all the problems left to spill all over the end.
The hostages could have been another obstacle, escaping themselves and going for the suits or trying to overcome their captors once they realized the only sane man is now dead. The loss of this potential truly saddens me because if developed properly, like the rest of the movie, I think more people would have liked Lockout.
What saved the movie for me (3 vs. 2 reels) was the very end back on earth. We still have the spy, Snow setup/mixup to deal with. Is Snow going to prison? Who is the double agent? Well Emilie helps with this as she goes and finds the briefcase. Turns out good cop was really bad cop and bad cop was really just a jerk of a good cop. You don’t really expect this added tidbit as the movie hasn’t ever really been about the spy stuff. It was always an introduction, a vehicle if you will, to Snow. So tying this end up while also leaving it hanging really works for me. (In the end, it doesn’t really matter what that information is, but it does matter who the spy is and the movie knows this.)
The details do matter. The skill lies in the balancing act to make all the elements come together. One misstep like with the brothers and the whole movie can plummet like a bird with an injured wing. Lockout is more than your average mindless popcorn movie. It has real characters in a nicely supported plot and will make you laugh and think about life. We need more of this in action movies.
Last week I got a nasty, senseless comment made on my most recent post. I debated quoting it or not…finally I decided. He gets his way at least in part as here it is: “Do you honestly expect people to read your stuff? You just go on and on and on. GET TO THE POINT! This long-winded writing is awful.”
If they want to…if they find it interesting. Of course, if you don’t then you’ll move on. I think the thing that really bothered me about this comment was it’s obvious meanness. I mean call me out on my points…at the very least knock my point of view – story, who cares? Some pointed sarcasm - well, was it good or not? would have worked for me too…it’s at least a debate I could have replied back on. An explanation on my point of view could have followed with us both deciding to agree to disagree.
The thing is I have really decent traffic on my blog. I just don’t have many who stick around. In fact, I can count on one hand those who actually read my posts…or at least glance over them on a regular basis. In any case, I’ve never had such a rude comment before now. Perhaps they were worried I’d write them a dissertation back and they’d end up drowning under the sheer volume of words I threw at them…well, what does this have to do with Lockout?
Because of this experience, I could really relate to Alex, portrayed by Vincent Regan, the crafty convict who wrests control of the prison before any of the other convicts have the presence of mind to do so themselves. Of course, once he was free and he witnessed for himself just how off his rocker his baby brother was he should have put a bullet in Hydell’s brain. As the story progressed you could visually see Alex pondering doing just that after having to clean up some mess of Hydell’s making. Then like a good boy he discarded the idea because of the promises and bonds he’d made at some long ago time. Yeah, you say, and he stupidly died for it!
It’s simple really. He’s the older brother. It’s his role. It’s a part of his identity and he couldn’t escape from it so he didn’t bother to try. While nothing so melodramatic as my death will come from this comment…I did loose a reader and will more than likely loose more as I continue going on and on and on. So be it…I am who I am and I can live with the consequences.
I hate the terms mindless action movie, turn your brain off guilty pleasure or senseless hack and slash fun. Just because a movie’s best qualities are it’s ability to suspend you from the real world doesn’t make them mindless. The real key to suspending disbelief are the characters drawing you in and making you care, Lockout had that. The chemistry made the movie…it’s even worthy of your wife or girlfriend’s time.
Are you a fan of Guy Pearce or Maggie Grace? What’s your favorite role of theirs? Is mindless fun a guilty pleasure you watch on the big screen or wait for in DVD or download? Are nasty and mean comments just a part of blogging or is there some etiquette involved?