Reckoning Day DVD review

Underworld antics abound in this chaotic but disappointing action debut...

It’s easy to forget, as we’re bludgeoned by over-stuffed cinema schedules year after year, that any finished film is a miracle.

Anything that goes from inspiration to creation, through production and post-production, to our cinema screens or our home entertainment systems, is special. Films are artifacts borne out of the harmonious collision of hard graft from a large troupe of people, piles of money, and a bunch of luck.

That Reckoning Day, British director Julian Gilbey’s action movie debut, now sits on shelves alongside Rambo and Robocop is such a miracle, for a couple of key reasons: one, it was shot by young, mostly inexperienced, pups, on a shoe-string budget, over a two-year stretch, in proper resourceful indie style; two, it’s an utterly terrible film.

It takes inspiration from rough-and-ready no-budget successes, such as Robert Rodriguez’s El Mariachi and Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead, but whereas those films created lean, minimalist narrative backdrops as a veritable playground for their directors, Reckoning Day sports a bewildering, clumsy plot.

Ad – content continues below

Ex-international assassin Charles Toll (Saul Linklater) has hit upon a drug that is more potent than PCP and Cocaine added together, and plans to sell it on the European market; however, crack American super-agent Ed (Roman Karpynec) is on his tail. The film alternates between overlong, clunky scenes of heavy-handed exposition and sequences of unremitting gore, gunfights and gung-hoisms.

Paradoxically, Reckoning Day is more artful in the latter, but is more entertaining in the former. The action scenes are edited at 100 miles per hour, switching from shaky-cam to slow-mo to extreme close-ups of spurting wounds and exploding heads. This is all incredibly impressive stuff, given the budget and experience of the production team – especially some of the more sober, calculated moments, such as a chainsaw-wielding goon getting his comeuppance – but it seems that basic coherence has been chucked out in favour of impact.

Voices are muffled, for one thing, meaning that the proceeds lose any sense of context or direction. It is easy to get lost and confused, as gallons of blood are spilled, and dozens of white, anonymous suburbanites cartwheel out of frame.

The ‘talky bits’ are no less confusing, but are often packed with quirky humour – both intentional and unintentional. The acting is uniformly atrocious, with Karpynec in particular playing the supposedly-suave American agent as Pearl Jam lead singer Eddie Vedder on some kind of emotion inhibitors. All of his lines are delivered in a drawling, deadpan monotone, as if reading from an autocue without punctuation.

Weirdly, this helps turn some of the script’s unrefined ‘zingers’ into absurd, unwavering monologues; when, late in the film, he is asked where he has hidden the drugs, he replies, with the sharpness of an old lady’s motorised scooter, “I don’t remember I may have left it in a bar somewhere maybe I fed it to the ducks oh I do recall now a polar bear ate it.” Likewise, a French drug-lord sounds like he’s just had some important dental surgery, and one scene, involving a highly strung henchman, ends with the punchline: “Sorry about him, he was touched by a priest.”

It is unabashedly teenage stuff – obsessed with guns, drugs and intrigue – but there’s a bright-eyed inventiveness throughout. It’s just a shame that the glimmers of humour, and squib-tastic money shots are cheapened by ham-fisted plotting and a bloated runtime – 105 minutes is just too long, and is 20 minutes beefier than Evil Dead and El Mariachi – which dissipates tension, and ruins the pacing and dynamics of the ending. That said, it’s probably best to enjoy Reckoning Day as a terrible-but-sometimes-entertaining piece of cinematic junk food. Miraculous? Maybe. But hardly divine.

Ad – content continues below

A commentary with Julian Gilbey and his brother William, who served as second unit director and stuntman is a nice addition to the disc, if you can bear to sit through the film again, but the additional Gilbey interview, seemingly for the Japanese market, is informative, insightful and charming. He leads the viewer through the inspiration and production of the film, with a sense of self-awareness and modesty, saying, “It’s my debut movie, that I made in my mid-twenties, so don’t take me too seriously… watch the film with a broad sense of humour.” Fitting advice.


2 stars

Reckoning Day is released on September 14, 2009.


2 out of 5