Saturday, April 5, 2014

Instant Action: True Lies (1994)

Jamie Lee Curtis performing a striptease always makes for a good time!

Screenplay By: James Cameron
Written By: James Cameron

True Lies is a very ridiculous film, but it owns its ridiculousness. From the start of the film until the very end logic and common sense are thrown out the window. This can result in a lesser film, one that is too concerned with being a cool action movie. However, such an approach can also result in a film that is lots of fun because of its willingness to go with the ridiculous. Whether it's our hero cracking someone over the head with a hand dryer he ripped off the wall or our villain managing to prance across the top of a moving jet there's no such thing as grounded in True Lies. That's okay though, because the film is about lying and it makes sense that the film would build a fantasy world full of lies.

There are parts of True Lies that are irksome. It's a bit too flabby, and it overdoes the bombasity on a few occasions. It does seem to go a little overboard in its presentation of its female characters as essentially helpless beings. I'm willing to let those problems slide because of how much fun I had with the film. The problems the film contains are easily overcome by James Cameron's willingness to go with the crazy ideas in his head. Maybe some of the crazy comes from the original film that True Lies is based off of. Whatever the case may be True Lies sticks to its guns and that allows the film to be better than it has any right to be.

This is the second time I've reviewed an Arnold Schwarzenegger film for this column. I was hoping to avoid double dipping too early, but in this case it's necessary as Mr. Schwarzenegger is not the focus on my review. Rather, it is the aforementioned James Cameron. He's not the best writer in the history of cinema, and his sense of humor is very broad (but effective, truth be told), but he's as dynamic of an action filmmaker as I've ever come across. Not only is the action of Mr. Cameron able to oscillate from small to incredibly large, with relative ease he's able to give a consistent view of his action. This isn't the fast cutting and editing of the Chaos Cinema approach to action. Mr. Cameron likes longer cuts that establish place and space nicely. It's hard to get lost in Mr. Cameron's action because he always make sure to let the viewer know the where and what of the action.

Maybe I'm going out on a limb here but I feel comfortable saying that Mr. Cameron is one of the best action filmmakers in the history of cinema. I much prefer his style to that of say, Michael Bay or Paul Greengrass. Their style is definitely their own and there are plenty of fans of the Chaos Cinema approach. The landscape and structural style of Mr. Cameron connect with me in a way that Chaos Cinema has never been able to. At one point our hero, Harry Tasker, is fighting his way out of a warehouse. There's a lot of action going on, and the film spreads the action evenly between the foreground and the background. When someone is shot we know where they are in relation to every other character and their general surroundings. That seems like such a small matter but it's so important to well framed action.

Another aspect of Mr. Cameron's action filmmaking that consistently impresses is his use of varying weapons and methods of action. True Lies isn't two hours of the same guns being used in the same shootouts over and over again. The artillery used is varied, and so are the scenarios for the action. There's a small bathroom shootout that is about the intimacy of combat. There's a chase scene that is about the thrill of the catch. Finally, there's a big end piece that is about the importance of scope. Mr. Cameron presents varied and unique action that is always compelling and always well done.

It's not the best film from James Cameron, but True Lies is a great piece of popcorn entertainment. I use that term lightly because while the thematic content of Trues Lies is superfluous the same cannot be said for the action. True Lies is a terrific example of an action film that is great because of the mechanics of its action. In an action film the action kind of matters, but that's not all True Lies has going for it. Equal parts funny and adventurous, True Lies is a rip roaring great time at the movies.



Bill Thompson

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