|A Man Apart|
|Written by Paul Lingas|
|Tuesday, 02 September 2003|
This shoot-‘em-up-while-trying-to-be-sensitive vehicle for Vin Diesel fails on many fronts, mostly because it can’t quite decide what tone to adopt. The script seems to have come out of a cookie cutter with obvious and unnecessary plot twists, the acting is uneven and there are too many bad guys with not enough personality to make the ending satisfying. Too many movies these days employ what have come to be known as alternate extended endings, where when you think the movie is over, it really isn’t. This can work sometimes, but too often it feels anticlimactic, just like it does here.
Director F. Gary Gray has delivered some notable if not particularly earth-shattering films, like “The Negotiator” and this summer’s (my summer favorite) “The Italian Job.” What separates these movies from “A Man Apart” is the sheer cohesion of the story dynamic and the attention to performance. Diesel does an apt job of playing moody DEA agent Sean Vetters, whose wife is gunned down by an angry Mexican cartel leader after Sean and his partner Demetrius (played by the always enjoyable Larenz Tate) take him down and put him in jail. Sean of course goes off the deep end and engages in trying to take down Diablo, the new leader of the Mexican cartel, whether under the legal auspices of the DEA or not.
Through a mishmash of different drug runners and bad guys, Sean tries to find out who killed his wife and exact revenge. He eventually goes overboard during one bust and ends up beating a suspect to death, as his fury over his wife boils over. Demetrius covers for him but later tells Sean that he is out of control. If you think this all sounds a bit hackneyed, you’re right. Gray can’t seem to make up his mind if this should be a fun cop movie or a serious look into what happens when a man loses the only thing important to him. There is a confluence of too much seriousness, coupled with silly plot points and empty, intended-to-be poignant one-liners. At one point, Sean is shown mourning, sitting on the beach in front of his sealed-off house, slugging back an airline bottle of J&B while morosely and intensely smoking a cigarette. This is supposed to make us empathize with him and see his heartache. The writers obviously weren’t interested in inspiration with this moment.
I like Diesel, but he’s often underutilized or misused. He has such a great screen presence, but it can often overwhelm the situation. The film has a sequence where Diesel limps down a South American street wearing a most fashionable, conspicuously inconspicuous hat. I suppose it would be easy to miss this tall, muscular, good-looking imposing man if he was wearing a small and stylish straw hat, even if drug thugs were looking for him. Every film requires a suspension of disbelief from the audience, and many of my acquaintances will tell you that I’ll buy lots of stuff, but not this much. I also wasn’t aware that California State Penitentiaries had such moodily lit and stylish chapels.
Timothy Olyphant delivers a fun performance as an ultra-hip and smartass cog in the cartel. His character at times seems very important yet at other times he disappears completely. Too many other characters are simply mailing in their performances, especially in the difficult to engage in opening act. Taken together with Diesel’s penchant for fierce brooding, the characters, already thin to begin with, fall apart on screen.
As far as a DVD goes, this one misses the boat. There are very few special features, the best of which is a collection of seven deleted scenes, but there are no cast bios, no commentary, nothing. In fact, this is the first DVD I’ve seen in quite a while (especially recent releases) that had no other languages besides English, either spoken or subtitled. The transfer is new, but otherwise unremarkable. There is one theatrical trailer for “A Man Apart” and two other brief trailers for other New Line movies. Ultimately, fans of Vin Diesel and violent, simplistic cop movies will find this DVD appealing, but otherwise its market value seems pretty slim.