In a not too distant future you can buy yourself a new artificial organ from The Union if you have the funds. And if you don’t then you can make a payment plan. Sounds like a good idea, and like the salesman Frank (Liev Schreiber) tells you “you owe it to yourself… and to your family”. The downside is that if you can’t make your payments your artificial heart, liver, pancreas or what have you, will be repossessed if you fall behind more than three months. The repo men are required to ask if you would like to have an ambulance standing by but, honestly, that’s merely for forms sake. More often than not they don’t seem to bother asking until the client is already unconscious.
Remy (Jude Law) is one of the most successful repo men at Union. He and his pal Jake (Forest Whitaker) are very good at what they do. Remy and Jake are cheerfully sociopathic about their jobs. They have a shared background that goes all the way back to school, and then through their military careers onto their work for The Union. They seem to be two pees in a pod, which gives us some motivation for Jake’s actions. Remy balances this very down-and-dirty job with a reasonably normal home life with his wife Carol (Carice van Houten) and their son Peter (Chandler Canterbury). It quite quickly becomes obvious that Remy’s job is a point of contention between him and his wife and she demands that he make a choice between his job and his family. He chooses work. Remy and Jake have this reoccurring line between them “a job is a job”.One point you can make here, just as Remy eventually does, is that a job is not just a job.
On a routine repo Remy goes after T-Bone (RZA), a musician he admires, to get back a heart. When he goes to use the de fibrillation pads the wires are faulty and he shorts himself out by mistake. When he next wakes up he has been given a replacement heart and winds up in debt to The Union. It is one of those “I owe my soul to the company store”-kind of deals. With his new artificial heart he also gets a quickening of his conscience, which creates problems. He can no longer make the move into sales, like he has planned in order to win his wife and son back, and he can’t relay repo anymore. He is actually less heartless with an artificial heart than he was with his organic heart. There’s some irony there. Before Remy knows it he is on the run from his former employee and all his former colleagues.
Repo Men has a lot going on. There are themes of familial obligation as opposed to work, friendship, trust and betrayal, love and money.
Forest Whitaker always surprises me as an action star, though why I can really say. Something about his body language says “gentle giant” until he starts actually fighting, but when he does close hand-to-hand combat I find him fully believable.
There’s a level of futuristic architecture reminiscent of Blade Runner, and I now that parallel is easy to make with pretty much any futuristic cityscape, but here it is more motivated than usual when you see the advertisement blimps propounding various messages floating around neon bedecked skyscrapers. There is also a very distinct difference between the moneyed clean suburbs and the slums where people running from the repo men live in squalor.
The love story between Remy and the urchin drug addict Beth (Alice Braga) feels odd, for a lot of different reasons. Beth is more bionic than real flesh and she reels off the names of her artificial limbs as a kind of calling card. She still fights like a professional, which I find incongruous, and she is street smart enough to know how to find what she needs on the black market – because of course there is one. This movie also has one of the most uncomfortable love scenes I have ever seen, and I mean “uncomfortable” in the truest sense of the word. Remy and Beth can only be free of the Union by repo-ing their various artificial limbs and they cut themselves open to do it, which is bloody and visceral and tempered by kisses and caresses, which really only serves to make it more cringe-worthy.
Right around the middle of the movie we take a sharp left from the realm of believability, which is a little rocky to begin with in this kind of narrative. There is a twist, of course. It relies pretty heavily on your involvement in the plot itself and a kind of meta-narrative awareness, but if you’re not having the kind of day when you’re not keeping your eye on the meta-narrative ball you are more likely to wind up thinking that this is just ridiculous long before we get to the twist. It’s not that the ride is not interesting, it is. The effects are cool and well executed, the overall themes are interesting enough and the fact that all characters are played with complete sincerity helps. This kind of story has to take itself seriously or it wouldn’t make it out the gate.
That being said, there is still something lacking. It’s stylish, I will give it that. The use of music is interesting.
Overall it lacks a certain gritty authenticity, though, if that term can be allowed in this kind of dystopic health care sci-fi. It could have made a bid for being more of a social satire in the vein of Fight Club.
The problem with being clever is that you sometimes out-wit yourself, and that’s something to keep in mind here.
Repo Men (2010) directed by Miguel Sapochnik stars Jude Law (Remy), Forest Whitaker (Jake), Alice Braga (Beth), Liev Schreiber (Frank), Carice van Houten (Carol), Chandler Canterbury (Peter) and RZA (T-Bone).