By Sebastian Clare.
To cinephiles and avid video-gamers alike, the name ‘Uwe Boll’ is synonymous with the very worst of what today’s film industry has to offer. Whether for repeatedly adapting successful game franchises such as House of the Dead, BloodRayne and Alone in the Dark into atrocious big-screen flops, or for a toe-curling foray into historical drama with Max Schmeling (2010) and Auschwitz (2011), it is not an exaggeration to say that the filmmaker has established an unenviable reputation as a third-rate hack of no particular talent, instinct or vision. He represents how not to make movies; if you see this man’s output and do not think that you can do better, then maybe you should avoid a career in this profession.
It is therefore not merely surprising but breathtaking, mindblowing, jawdropping, that Uwe Boll has managed to conjure up something as watchable as Assault on Wall Street – a revenge flick with a difference. Witness the sudden implosion of the world of former soldier Jim (played with stony, sullen intensity by Dominic Purcell), as the crash of 2008 reaches its climax. Within a relatively short period of time, the insurance coverage for his wife’s cancer treatment reaches its limit, he discovers via his broker that his entire life savings have been wiped out, his house is foreclosed, and he loses his job as a security van driver. The phrase ‘a man with nothing left to lose’ is a cliché, but here we see its most literal form.
All of this is beautifully-shot and steadily-paced; roughly the first half of the film is devoted to the collapse of the protagonist’s life, while the second sees the development and execution of his plan to wreak a terrible vengeance on those responsible. Between Jim’s desperate attempts to keep his head afloat financially and his wife’s worsening condition, the sense of rising tension is almost unbearable, but brilliantly created. Little vignettes such as the hero’s one-on-one conversations with his stockbroker and then his lawyer, give a colourful illustration of the real economic devastation caused by the money markets. By the time he resolves to, essentially, commit mass murder, our empathy is so complete that the subsequent slayings make for considerably more uncomfortable viewing than if the build-up had been more brief or less emotionally intense.
Though set in New York, the movie – like so many others – is primarily shot in Vancouver, but with liberal sprinklings of ‘Big Apple’ second unit shots. This is effective, and surprisingly subtle given Boll’s prior work. The score by Jessica de Rooij is in turns ethereal and ominous, adding to the doom-laden atmosphere that surrounds the proceedings. Added to the pitch-perfect performances by the cast – especially Purcell, and John Heard as the primary antagonist – and the competent direction, it all makes for an impressive final cut.
Given its themes of capitalist corruption and free market malpractice – at one point Edward Furlong’s Sean resignedly tells Jim, “The system’s rigged man, you know that” – Assault on Wall Street is a pretty brave film, from an auteur who has never before given any hint of being interested in such matters. With echoes of Falling Down (1993), God Bless America (2012), and He Was A Quiet Man (2007), this is the latest in a long line of ‘Man is pushed too far, snaps and goes on a killing spree’ kind of films, but it is all the more poignant and powerful for using as its central backdrop the economic crash, and for peppering its scenes with snippets of TV pundits describing the disparities of wealth and justice. Such a socio-economic commentary elevates this above standard revenge-flick fare, and makes Assault on Wall Street a must-see for anyone who might, occasionally, in their darkest moments, fantasize about stock-market traders getting some comeuppance.
Sebastian Clare has a Masters Degree from University College Dublin, and is a freelance writer and broadcaster.