As the film starts, it boldly explains that the FBI are targeting Mafia boss Primo Sparazza, as the last vestige of a Mafia that has been systematically dismantled.
From here, we’re introduced to Agent Messner (Ryan Reynolds) and Agent Carruthers (Ray Liotta) as they stakeout said Mafia boss, discovering that he has plans for Buddy ‘Aces’ Israel (Jeremy Levin), stage magician and up-and-coming crime boss.
Thus begins the attempts by the Mafia to kill Aces for a 1 million dollar fee, and the FBI agents to secure Israel, get him to testify and prevent the various assassins from doing their job… or so it seems!
Aces has managed to move up through the ranks of The Mob and this means he’s got connections and, through these connections, an overgrown sense of his own importance and far too much information that people don’t want getting out. With so much money up for grabs, the assassins come from far and wide, truths are revealed and the lines are blurred between the good guys and the bad guys.
The film looks interesting with its bright and bold use of colour, mainly thanks to the Las Vegas setting. You wouldn’t think there would be so many interesting ways to shoot elevator scenes, but this film manages it. The use of quick cuts make for a fast paced film that is packed with action, violence and a sharp wit, but oddly lacks impact until its closing moments.
The film has an impressive ensemble cast; alongside Liotta, Reynolds and Piven, we’ve got actors like Ben Affleck, Andy Garcia and names from television and film that you may (or may not) know. Alicia Keys pops up as a killer and Chris Pine makes a pre-Captain Kirk appearance as a redneck assassin with a screw loose, accompanied by his two brothers (who are equally messed up!) The buddy relationship between Liotta and Reynolds has been seen many times before, but they mostly keep it fresh, with Reynolds showing a deftness for drama. Piven is excellent in the role of Buddy Israel bringing a raw intensity to his performance, despite a lack of productive screentime. Overall, the cast are extremely capable and carry the messy script with enthusiasm.
This isn’t to say that the film is a ‘bad’ film, it’s just not as clever as the writer thinks it is. It builds relationships between the various characters, has some brilliant moments of creativity (especially amongst the various assassination attempts) and a nice twist ending that brings together a past case with modern times (through too much exposition). Despite all this, it’s a mess mired by too many characters and plot points fitting into its 108 minute running time.
If you’ve got the DVD, there’s nothing new in the standard definition features here and, broadly, the extras come across as too short for the variety of interesting things that they could have had extras about! Nothing on the Mafia, not enough on the shooting and too little of what is there.
The commentary is a rapid fire affair with director and writer Joe Carnahan and editor Robert Frazen being immensely complimentary of the stars and the whole production process. It sounds like the filmmaking process was a fun one, with all the cast and crew getting on well. Occasionally, Carnahan offers an insight into the development of his script, but too often there’s conversation for the sake of conversation.
‘Shoot ‘Em Up: Stunts and Effects’ comes in at just under five minutes and has the actors talking about their experience (or lack thereof) with firearms. It would have been nice to see more of the training that the actors undertook in preparation for their roles.
‘The Big Gun’ runs for nearly 12 minutes and is a making of featuring behind the scenes footage of the filming process introduced by Joe Carnahan. It’s a bit on the short side, but rather interesting for what it is, covering a few days of filming.
‘The Line-Up’ is a 13 minute character exploration piece with the actors explaining their characters. It primarily focuses on Buddy Israel, The Feds, the female assassins The Lethal Ladies, the redneck Tremor Brothers (explaining themselves in character and making it quite fun to watch) and the Bounty Hunters. I was hoping it was going to be a casting piece, but was mildly disappointed to just hear the actors tell me what I’d learned in the film.
‘Cowboy Ending’ has the final moments of the film played differently. Instead of pulling the plug, Messner shoots Israel and Sparazza. It’s a rough cut ending that runs for just over one minute and lacks the dramatic and emotional impact of the ending in the film.
‘Outtakes’ runs for under ten minutes that run the gamut from bizarre to quite funny, particularly watching Ben Affleck trying to play pool.
There are under ten minutes Deleted and Extended scenes, four in total that manage to lack any moments when you say, “Why didn’t they leave that in?”
Overall, the Blu-ray release offers nothing over the DVD release, save for the high definition (often passing 30Mbps) main feature and soundtrack in DTS-HD. The picture quality is exceptional and sound crisp and clear, booming from the subwoofer thanks to the overwhelmingly loud soundtrack which includes artists as diverse as The Prodigy, Motorhead and Ennio Morricone.