Judge Adam Arseneau's gun says "REPLICA" on the side.
Nobody does revenge like a woman.
Outrageously dysfunctional, curse-laden, and offensive, .45 is what happens when movie clichés become autonomous, come to life, and create their own movie. This is a film laden with excesses—it drinks too hard, parties too hard, and has wild and impromptu sex with everyone in sight while firing machine guns into the air and hollering.
Despite the film's heroine star power, .45 saw no North American theatrical release and was shuffled straight to DVD. Let's see if this film was deserving of such a fate.
Facts of the Case
In the bowels of New York, Kate (Milla Jovovich, The Fifth Element) is the princess of back alleys and slummy bars. Smart, funny, and beautiful, she's gazed on with adoring eyes by her friends. One problem—she's with Big Al (Angus Macfadyen, Saw III), a hulking monster of a man who drinks too much, cheats too much, beats too much, and generally makes Kate's life hell too much. Together, they run an underground gun market, selling handguns under the table to whoever comes looking. Kate and Al love each other, but Al is not the kind of man who can be loved easily.
After taking one too many beatings, Kate finally awakens to the idea that Al might be a problem in her life. Her friends Reilly (Stephen Dorff, World Trade Center) and Vic (Sarah Strange, White Noise), who both harbor their own feelings for Kate, suggest that plans be put in motion to remove Al from the scene—permanently. A social worker, Liz (Aisha Tyler, Ghost Whisperer) tries to get Kate to put some distance between her and Al, but he isn't the kind of man who respects things like restraining orders.
"What do you two have in common, anyway?"
.45 starts off with a foul-mouthed tirade about genitalia size and never looks back. The first half of the film is a hip drama full of seedy bars and back-alley brawls, clever, irreverent, and stuffed with tongue-in-cheek dialogue. Then, like peeling away the skin of an onion, .45 descends into abuse and domestic violence, jarring the narrative into subjects deep and unsettling. Plus, more F-bombs than a frat house.
In essence, .45 is the classic female revenge film, the meek woman pushed too far into cold, calculating revenge against her repressor. But rather than presenting itself in the classic thriller style, .45 takes a more cerebral approach, loading itself up with militant feminism, rampant dysfunctionality, and repeated tequila midnight viewings of True Romance. This film takes feminist theory into bad, bad places, gets it drunk, and gives it a gun and a big box of ammo. The fireworks that ensue are both terrifying and beautiful.
Like all female bad-ass films, the heroine must be the star of the show, and Kate is a near-perfect protagonist. Beautiful and sexy, she seems innocent on the surface, but is constructed entirely of ice and steel. Say what you want about Jovovich's career path in movie selection as of late, but her role in .45 is perfectly suited towards her, ah, assets. Whether through natural talent or acting prowess, she plays the sexy naïf role extremely well. Her being extremely easy on the eyes doesn't hurt, either. Jovovich's performance in this film is the true backbone to .45, an electric tour-de-force of bravado and tears, screaming and sultriness. As a battered and abused women pushed to the brink, her terrified, rabbit-in-the-headlights, shaking portrayal of Kate is spot-on and utterly believable. She may make crappy Resident Evil movies right and left, but Jovovich has some serious acting chops at her disposal. Who knew? It's a shame she doesn't break them out for better films.
For every great heroine in the genre of revenge films, there must be a loathsome man, the one who breaks the camel's back, so to speak. Big Al is over-the-top insane, a walking caricature of every single police report filed against abused women brought to life on crystal meth. He is reprehensible and loathsome, a masochistic, foul-mouthed greasy thug; sexist, racist, homophobic—you name it, he's against it—who gets all the pretty girls but has no idea how to treat them. To paraphrase, he is "the walking, talking reason why all girls should be lesbians." Angus Macfadyen has that crazed intensity to his gaze and makes for a menacing figure, but noticeably struggles to control his Scottish brogue, especially when shouting. Luckily, the filmmakers also noticed this particular quirk, so they wrote an explanation into the story. Cute.
Like a New York ghetto version of Body Heat, sexuality and power are center stage in .45. Kate may be the heroine, but she is also extremely villainous, just as foul-mouthed and crude as her male counterpart. She has a streak of viciousness behind her sultry smile, happy to play the obedient role while wrapping her fingers around the blade of her knife, getting ready to stab you in the liver. Unlike Al, who is reviled throughout, every single character in .45, male and female alike, wants to get up with Kate. She is the golden goose and all characters circle around her like satellites. They all want to own her, possess her, and sleep with her, and she plays into each and every one of them. Every single person in her life wants something from her. She may be battered and abused verbally, physically, and sexually throughout the film but, damn, I wouldn't want to piss her off.
The irony of .45, the illusion of control, of empowerment in abused women wrapped around such a visceral and violent movie, sends mixed messages on the subject of domestic violence. The thing with power struggles is that the abusee often ends up the abuser, essentially reversing roles. The ending is a bit clichéd, but absolutely drenched in irony, circling back around again like a merry-go-round. You can see where this film is going from a hundred miles away, but the pieces are put together well enough to hang on for the ride.
.45 reveals itself to be quite the underdog film, far more respectable and credible than its "direct to DVD" pedigree would indicate. All things considered, I find myself surprised it received no theatrical release. Writer/director Gary Lennon (Drunks) has a strong visual style, solid directing chops, and a flair for postmodern hipster dialogue between his protagonists, like the robber who tries to steal a television from Big Al and ends up being yelled at for bleeding on his Persian rug—an arguably pointless scene, but a great one nonetheless. The quick, witty banter style owes much to films like The Boondock Saints, Reservoir Dogs, and the like, but is executed here strongly enough to not be overly redundant or plagiarist. The narrative structure is clever, punctuated by small, confessional-style interviews by each character in the film, discussing how much they loathe Big Al. It doesn't take a genius to prophesize how things turn out for him, but it makes for some interesting gags. Jovovich absolutely steals the show with her performance, but the rest of the performances are nothing to write off. So where's the love for .45?
Visually, the film looks fantastic, with solid black levels, well-balanced contrast, pleasingly saturated colors, and nary a scratch on the transfer. If there's a problem with the transfer, I sure as heck don't see it. Both a stereo and 5.1 surround track are included, which have modest bass response and nice use of environmental noises. The 5.1 track is preferred, much more full and nuanced, especially in the music cues. Dialogue can occasionally muffle, but this is in the style of the film, with overlapping conversation and shouting. All things being equal, .45 looks and sounds like a film with a much more sizable budget.
The only extra feature is a solid commentary track by writer/director Gary Lennon, discussing the film structure and cinematic themes in .45. Gary is conversational and informative and steeps his narrative full of cinematic allusions to influential cinema, film techniques, and psychology—a bit pretentious, but he is clearly eager to rap about his film. It is a top-notch commentary track, offering a surprising amount of depth to the film and its underlying motifs. Beyond that, only some trailers are tossed in. Spanish subtitles are included, but not English, which is unfortunate.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
There is a lot of violence in .45, which is generally not a problem per se, but much of it focuses almost exclusively against women in a very aggressive, masochistic way. One scene between Macfadyen and Jovovich consists of her being threatened, abused, and beaten for a solid ten minutes. It isn't pretty.
In this aspect, .45 just goes way too far. I mean, talk about gender roles run amuck. The men are seething hulking cavemen-like monsters of anger, insecurity, and repression, while the women are promiscuous, sexually aggressive, spiteful, and manipulative. The amount of misogyny, blatant sexual stereotyping, and sheer aggression seeping out of the characters in .45 would give Judith Butler an aneurysm.
.45 is disgusting and loathful, but fun in its own crude and abusive sort of way—like a wanton night on the town drinking yourself into a total stupor. For a film so unabashedly foul, it has a surprising amount of emotional and cerebral heft to it. If you like your movies smart and dysfunctional and just a bit masochistic, then .45 is your caliber of choice.
Since it's of much higher quality than your average direct-to-DVD title, .45 is worth a look. Not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary Track with Director Gary Lennon
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