Warner Bros. // 2012 // 104 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // March 1st, 2013
You can't call it murder until you find a body.
Where have you gone, Lloyd Dobler?
Detective Mike Fletcher (John Cusack, The Ice Harvest) is obsessed with tracking down a serial murderer of prostitutes. At least, he thinks they're being murdered; technically, the women have only gone missing and no bodies have been found. He and his partner, Kelsey (Jennifer Carpenter, Quarantine) relentlessly hunt the snowy streets of Buffalo, NY, looking for any clues to lead them to their suspect -- at the expense of Mike's relationship with his family, including teenage daughter Abby (Mae Whitman, The Perks of Being a Wallflower). So when Abby becomes the latest victim of the guy Mike and Kelsey are pursuing, it's a race against time to get her back.
For a long time, John Cusack was one of my very favorite actors. Not because of his talent, necessarily -- he's good, but has what can only be called a "limited" range -- but because he played a certain kind of role very well. He was smart, he had good taste and represented a kind of masculinity that someone like me could identify with. He's an original, and that's a rare thing in Hollywood. But the last year has been a rough one for Cusack. First came his miscast turn in the forgettable The Raven, then came an even more miscast turn in Lee Daniels' southern-fried potboiler The Paperboy. Closing out what might be the weakest trilogy of his career is The Factory, a movie that barely received a theatrical release in late 2012 and which, for most of us, is going direct to DVD. There's a reason for that.
The Factory is just about as routine as thrillers come in 2013, recycling elements of Seven and even Saw as well as every police procedural ever made. Because movies in general have gone "darker" in the last 15-20 years, it flirts with an ugliness at times that it does not quite earn; while movies like Hostel incorporate some upsetting imagery, at least it's to a point. The Factory is a movie with nothing going on beneath the surface, using that imagery because other movies have done it. We get a crazy, twisted villain with his own torture dungeon, an obsessed cop, and a bunch of women in danger -- all the signifiers of a crime thriller, but not combined or arranged in any way that feels new or unique. It's a carbon copy of several other, better movies.
What could have attracted an actor like Cusack -- who once showed pretty discerning taste in projects (when he wasn't clearly choosing a commercial movie like Serendipity or Must Love Dogs in order to finance his next few passion projects) -- to the script for The Factory? Was the movie originally supposed to be something different? It's possible. This could be an instance of producers recutting a movie to the most "commercial" version possible and then dumping it in an attempt to recoup anything they can. Or maybe this is exactly the movie that director Morgan O'Neill (who is perhaps best known for playing "Matt" in Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles) wanted to make. Cusack either sensed that the movie was not very good or else had most of his performance left on the cutting room floor, because he sleepwalks through the whole thing. It's a completely detached performance, failing to create a single identifiable character trait besides "obsessed." That doesn't give the other actors much to work with, either, who are left with nothing to do but continually shout things along the lines of "You're too close to this thing!" and "You need to take a break!" Every character in the movie keeps telling Cusack how wacky his theories are, even though he's right every step of the way. Populating a movie almost entirely with stupid, wrongheaded characters is a quick way to insult the audience's intelligence.
Of course, some of this misdirection can be explained away by the movie's twist, which I will not reveal beyond stating that The Factory clearly subscribes to Roger Ebert's Law of Economy of Characters. The movie only gets sillier and stupider as it goes along, leading to a climax that's utterly ridiculous and abandons any goodwill the movie might have built up to that point. The actors do their best to sell it, but they're hampered by a screenplay that varies from hackneyed and generic to implausible to downright insulting. It feels like a movie made by people who know nothing about life besides what they have seen in other movies.
It's pretty clear that Warner Bros. has little faith in The Factory, as it's being dumped directly to DVD without so much as a trailer for a bonus feature. The 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer does look very good, highlighting the handsome photography and bringing out the best in the dark color palette without succumbing to loss in contrast or crush. The 5.1 surround track handles the dialogue well enough, only coming to life for some of the louder soundtrack "stings" and other horror/suspense elements. The only bonus feature is an UltraViolet digital copy, which will allow you to download a copy of the movie provided you have the correct software or platform to do so.
The last time John Cusack starred in a thriller, it was James Mangold's Identity in 2003. That movie was a mess, too, but there was a lot to like about it, and Cusack felt dialed in. Ten years has made a big difference. There may be an audience who finds The Factory passable entertainment for a Saturday night rental, but that's far too low of a standard to hold. Cusack has made too many better movies that should be watched before wasting time on this one. Even The Raven.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 2.40:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 104 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* UltraViolet Download