In the near distant future, the world is still at war with itself.
It’s Nigeria this time. Humanity is, more or less, lost among the elites. Not too hard to believe. A wealthy company is lying to people to make them invest in a product that most individuals will not be able to pay off.
The Union supplies people with artificial organs, for hundreds of thousands of dollars; sometimes even millions. The salesperson will tell you: “You owe it to your family. You owe it to yourself.” What they don’t tell you is that if you can’t pay, a repo man will come and take it back.
Remy (Jude Law) is one of the best repo men in the Union. He and his best friend, Jake (Forest Whitaker), drive around town scanning passerby’s for past due payments. Repo is everything to them, making them neglect other aspects of their lives. Remy’s marriage is already on the rocks, making it easy for him to be captivated by Beth (Alice Braga), singing on a stage in a bar. Turns out, Beth has numerous artificial implants who’s payments are all overdue.
When Remy must receive an artificial heart due to faulty Union equipment, Frank (Liev Schreiber), Remy’s boss, gives the same sales pitch regular customers receive. Soon, Remy learns how easy it is to fall behind on these types of bills, and repo comes after him.
This is a great premise, but the film has way too many problems.
One practical issue that is never addressed is that of Workman’s Comp. Remy is injured on the job by equipment provided by the Union. Should his new heart not be fully paid for by the company? It wasn’t and we’ll never know why.
Breezing over these questions is not out of the ordinary for this movie. The relationship that forms between Remy and Beth is as “Hollywood” as it gets. Two people who have just met fall in love and will do anything for one another? It’s typical and, I guess, I was hoping for a unique scenario.
I can’t say much about the directing. It seems like the director didn’t have to do too much. He set the camera in place, and just let the film happen. Once everything becomes violent and overly gory, there’s no need to be fancy with the camera.
The film is told in a framed narrative. It begins with Remy writing a memoir (I’m assuming) on an old typewriter Beth found. Until the typewriter is found and given to Remy as a special “birthday” gift, he has never implied that he had a desire to write a memoir – or to type anything at all. Why does Beth think it will be special to him? Why does he suddenly write an entire memoir? When does he have time to write it? He slowly pecks at the keyboard like someone completely unfamiliar with computers.
Despite its obvious problems, there were enjoyable elements to Repo Men.
The relationship between Remy and Jake is the best part of all. Their friendship is a bond of brotherly love that soldiers generally form with one another. They actually were soldiers in the past, and blew things up together from within a tank. The scenes with Law and Whitaker are great. The banter between them and the history that comes through in their conversations is priceless. The film would have fallen apart from the start if it had not been for these two amazing leads.
Though they were few, Schreiber was excellent in all of his scenes. His character holds true to the Union’s ways, even in the face of danger.
The humor was probably the one thing I wasn’t expecting that helped turn the film around for me. I knew there would be action and great acting, but I had not anticipated comedy.
Another treat is the music. Toots & The Maytals’s “54-46 Was My Number”, William Bell’s “Every Day Will Be Like A Holiday”, and Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good” are all wonderful tracks that work within the gory world of Repo Men.
Remy’s voice-over narration, coupled with the gritty look and feel of the film, creates a very noir essence. The scene in the bar with Remy watching Beth sing recalled all those hardboiled pulp stories from back in the day. It may be a stretch, but this man’s life could have been a storyline in Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. (Different genre, same idea.)
As far as storytelling goes, there are many things done well. There’s foreshadowing all over the place, and a good deal of showing whom the characters are and their relationships to one another. However, character development is passed over in the film. They lack depth, and that has to do with the overall writing.
After receiving his new heart, Remy undergoes a typical change. He can’t cut people open for their organs anymore because he knows what it’s like to be one of them. Maybe Jake experiences some alteration by the finale, but, for reasons I won’t discuss, in the end none of it matters.
The repo men are just scannable objects like the organs they repossess. Bar codes are even printed on the sides of their necks. This is interesting, adding to the fact that these people at the top see everyone as an object to be used.
In the end, I can say one thing. Remy does what we all wish we could do: Kick the crap out of healthcare providers. These people are supposed to help us, and they will, but only on one condition. You must be able to pay (most likely through the greedy middle-men health insurance companies; considering you have any to begin with).
The officers of the Union will shoot their own workers like it means nothing. The people building the artificial organs are just as expendable as the people within which the devices are installed. While at times it seems like mindless violence and death, we must wonder how far from the truth this truly is. Not the physical act of taking a person’s life, but the mindset that we are just a means of revenue for health care providers.
A cash source, not a person.
When I had my appendix taken out, a woman came to talk to me about my insurance while I was still delirious from the anesthesia and pain medication. I mean, I came out of surgery only a few hours earlier, and this woman is asking me for my insurance card.
Here’s another example: During a trip to the horrific Mary Washington Hospital in Fredericksburg, VA, I dealt with a couple interesting health care issues.
1) I was given a pager (like the ones at restaurants) so they could call me when they were ready. Who does that?
2) After a nurse checked me over, I asked if they were ever going to take my insurance information before I left. The woman replied: “Oh, don’t worry. We’ll find you.”
The healthcare system we have throughout most of this country is not working. Hawaii has free healthcare and it has been working for them for years. Yet, people who already have the security of healthcare bicker about not providing it to individual’s who don’t?
I can safely say the ending of Repo Men ruined it for me. I don’t know if the novel by Eric Garcia concludes in a similar manner – probably, since he helped write the script – but I was thoroughly disappointed when I walked out of the theater. The finale ruined the film for me. If there’s one thing a writer shouldn’t do, it’s what happened in this movie. I’m not going to give away the ending, but I just wanted to let all of you know. Be warned.
2 ½ out of 5