A Man Apart Review
Ten years ago A Man Apart could have been a Steven Seagal movie. Twenty years ago it might have starred Charles Bronson. Both of those films would probably have been a lot less pretentious and a good 20 minutes shorter than the picture they did make. It's a dull, unfocused piece of work which isn't sure if it wants to be a grim drama about drug smuggling, along the lines of Steven Soderbergh's Traffic, or a simple-minded revenge thriller starring action star du jour Vin Diesel. As the script plainly doesn't have the intelligence to play in Soderbergh's league, it might have been best to lighten the tone and put in more gunfights.
In the opening narration, drug enforcement agent Sean Vetter (Diesel) gravely gives us the lowdown on the Mexican cartel he's been chasing. Based in Tijuana, they supposedly bring enough cocaine into America each year to provide a line of coke for every man, woman and child on the planet. The cartel is run by distinguished drug baron Memo Lucero (Geno Silva), who is finally tracked down and captured by Vetter and his crew after a shoot-out in Mexico. The victorious cops take a well-earned break but Lucero's removal only makes way for the rise of a new druglord, the mysterious Diablo. The new player orders a hit on Vetter which fails but kills his beloved wife Stacy (Jacqueline Obradors). Vetter swears to track down Diablo and take his vengeance, even if it means breaking the law and losing his badge.
You see the problem here. On one hand the story runs through the handbook of action movie conventions, ticking them off one by one, while on the other director F Gary Gray (The Negotiator) refuses to shoot the film the only way it could possibly work, as unashamed trash, and instead treats the material with a harsh realism that only serves to highlight every cliché. To give you an idea of how dumb the script is, at one point Vetter beats a suspect to death in broad daylight, in full view of witnesses and causes three fellow agents to be killed. Called into his chief's ofice and asked for his badge, Vetter is shocked and disappointed. Shouldn't he be relieved he's not in prison? Wouldn't a bloodbath like that make the news and warrant an investigation? Not in this film, which is set in the alternate universe of the Lethal Weapon series where cops have a licence to kill. Another annoyance is the revelation of Diablo's identity, which proves the story has just been jerking us around like an Agatha Christie novel. And a character's last minute change of heart comes across as cheap and unconvincing.
Vin Diesel is adequate but charmless in a role that requires him to do little more than act glum and angry. If he wants to keep his place in the Hollywood big leagues, Diesel needs to be making a higher class of picture. Since his impressive debut in Saving Private Ryan, he hasn't starred in a single film I'd want to watch again. No one in the cast gets much chance to shine, although Timothy Olyphant, as an arrogant cartel middleman who operates out of a tanning salon, emerges with some credit. F Gary Gray does stage a couple of decent action scenes, although even these owe a lot to Michael Mann's Heat, as does the dark, mournful tone of the film. There's another comparison A Man Apart can't withstand. Whatever Gray may have thought he saw in the screenplay, it's not there onscreen.