Whenever I watch a movie on FEARnet, I expect it to be a gory, slasher kind of thing. Most people who know me, know that I don’t like slasher movies…what I would call gratuitous violence. This is exemplified with all the popular fare that includes some teenager wandering into the dark room, and having their head cut off with piano wire, or a scantily clad blond receiving a railroad spike in her forehead. This, for me, goes over a line. But in the interest of entertainment, suspense, or the elucidation of human nature, i do enjoy watching how writers render the reactions of human beings in challenging and frightening situations. That strikes to the core of who we are as evolved animals….
As a writer, I am familiar with the machinations of story-creation, and I understand what human nature responds to, even if sometimes it reveals an underdeveloped or afflicted psyche. I am not interested in feeding that group of readers. So when I do watch a movie with graphic scenes, I at least want it to be integral to the plot, and of course, that suggests that there IS a plot. My leanings in this direction are more in the genre of thriller and suspense, then…
Recommendation without giving it away: it’s worth seeing. Tense, well-done, with an intriguing human element that gives it real bite.
Review– SPOILER Alert.
Having said that, I was pleasantly surprised by Already Dead, starring Ron Eldard. He’s one of those actors you recognize but can’t place and know little about. He is perhaps best known for his roles in Black Hawk Down and ER. In this film, he plays a father and husband, Thomas Archer; a successful architect with an idyllic life filled by a loving wife and an adored son. Archer has suffered through a vicious home invasion, and the story begins by integrating present-time with flashbacks to build the story. At the beginning, we see him traveling via subway with a bag full of money, and periodically taking instructions from a cell phone about where to go to drop the cash. The clever part of this script, here, is that we assume he is paying off kidnappers. What we discover, however, is that he is paying for the ability to exact revenge on the man who killed his son in that home invasion. I was even more interested at this point, because it was setting up to be a movie about vengeance, in the vigilante category. I’ve always been fascinated by this area of the human psyche. I even wrote a screenplay about it years ago, and have recently been finishing up the novella version of it, both entitled Another Justice. In Already Dead, then, the reference is at first to Archer’s son.
Through more flashbacks, we learn that the detective on the case notified Archer that he was being reassigned and the case was going to be dropped, but suggested he see a therapist the department used frequently for officers who had been through traumatic events. Since Archer can find no peace on his own, he goes to see the counselor. After several months of treatment, Archer feels no better and finally, the psychologist, played by Christopher Plummer, informs him of a secret group of men in various positions of law enforcement, who take matters into their own hands, rather than let criminals skirt the system. In this scenario, they offer up his son’s murderer for the hefty fee of $500k, so that this grieving father can exact revenge. I would immediately be suspicious of an organization that claimed to be about seeking justice and then charged the cost of a home in an upperclass neighborhood to offer this option to someone who is devastated by grief. But maybe that’s a clue to the nature of these men.
After we are made aware that his son was not kidnapped, but killed, and that Archer has accepted the option to exact revenge, we know that the money is to pay for the privilege of doing that. Archer winds up in a room located in an abandoned warehouse-type building. The killer is strapped to a chair with a hood over his head. On a long table in the room is every manner of torture device, to include many power tools. Through the cell phone, he is reassured that the best technology was used, including DNA evidence, to conclude that this is indeed the man who killed his son. There are cameras throughout the building and in that room, where the organization can watch him and monitor the situation. Archer pulls the killer’s hood off and confronts him, eye-to-eye showing him a photo of his son, and asking him if he recognizes the boy. The guy in the chair denies any recognition. Eventually, Archer’s grief and anger erupts, and he begins to inflict pain, first with a bat, and then eventually by nailing one of the killer’s hands to the chair arm. This is where things get interesting. When he is about to crucify the other hand, he turns it palm up to drive the nail, and sees the guy’s arm. He flashes back on the home-invasion, and recalls a tattoo on the invader’s left forearm. Archer sees now that this guy he has just abused and nailed to a chair, does not have that tattoo.
Let the hand-wringing begin.
He points to the cell phone so that the guys behind the camera can see him, and they call. He tells them they have the wrong man, that he doesn’t have a tattoo. They try to reassure him there is no mistake and that his mind is playing tricks, but he is certain he saw the tattoo that night. Frantic, he asks to speak to the psychologist who hooked him up with this organization, and so the therapist is on the phone, trying to talk him out of changing his mind. He warns that the agreement was made, and the organization cannot allow it to stop, it’s gone too far. The job has to be finished. Archer says they can keep the money, but the man must be allowed to leave with him, safely. The doctor intimates that if he doesn’t go through with it, his life is in danger. Ultimately, ethics win out over his need for revenge, and Archer refuses to continue. He destroys the camera.
The man in the chair asks for the nail to be removed, and Archer complies, and the removal is every bit as painful to watch as the insertion was. He answers the ringing cell phone and insists the doctor come to the room immediately. The doctor arrives, still trying to convince him to finish the job, and says that even if this is not the man who did it, this man is a criminal and deserves to be punished just as much as the man who killed his son. The man in the chair says he never killed children or beat women. Archer, of course, only signed on because he wanted to punish the man who took his son from him. He’s not okay with being executioner for anyone else. He releases the man, who then hobbles over to a section of wall, knocking on it, suggesting there is a way to escape if they break through the wall. Archer gets the sledge hammer and starts whacking the wall. The doctor says that the men from the clandestine vigilante organization will arrive shortly, and they will not allow Archer or the man to get out alive.
So, Archer and the chair-man start their escape, hearing shots on the room behind them which they are sure is the organization killing the doctor. The next big chunk of the movie, is the two men trying to escape from the pursuing organization of masked men who needs them dead. Although Archer knows this man didn’t kill his son, he also knows he’s a criminal who probably killed SOMEbody…maybe lots of somebodys. Yet, they are forced to be allies to save their own lives. They do finally make it out, discovering one of the masked men to be the doctor himself. Archer cannot kill him, though he tries to pull the trigger. He says, “I can’t kill you. You’re already dead.” The Chairman (hehe) does the honors, since it’s obvious that the only way they will both continue to survive is if all the members of that small organization are dead.
The fait accompli comes in a tag scene where the Chairman opens the trunk of a car, and we see a bound man there, and the tattoo on his arm. This is the man who killed Archer’s son. We watch as the Chairman fills him with a few bullets, and closes the trunk.
Overall, quite an engaging movie, and a peek into still another dark corner of the human psyche as well as the often nebulous region of right and wrong.