Back in his meat-cutting days, Judge David "The Butcher" Johnson cut meat.
Every dog has his day.
Eric Roberts (The Dark Knight) opens up a can of whoopass.
Facts of the Case
Roberts is Merle Hench, a.k.a. "The Butcher," a mob enforcer entering the twilight of his career. Just as he's about to gallop off into the hitmen retirement community, his boss (Robert Davi, The Living Daylights) sets him up and he finds himself on the run from a nonstop parade of trigger-happy Mafia goons.
Thinking that if he has to shoot his way through a bunch of bad guys, he might as well as do it for a crapload of money, Merle takes the fight to his adversaries in a big way. With his waitress girlfriend by his side and a pair of gold-plated .45s with infinite ammo, The Butcher is determined to spill blood by the gallons.
Got the itch for a hyper-violent shoot 'em up with a small plot, a cadre of growling, grizzly cast members, and a world record for the most blood squibs ever detonated on film? Here you go. It may look unassuming, sitting there on the rental shelf, emanating that Generic-Action-Movie-Starring-Recognizable-C-Listers aura, but lurking within is a fairly badass piece of bullet-slinging.
The story is simple. There's a mob guy, he gets sold out, he kills everyone. There's no envelope-pushing storytelling at work here, but this isn't a plot-driven picture. The Butcher is a straight-arrow gun movie, which turns on the axis of its main character. Both of these ingredients—the action and the antihero—work well, more than compensating for the facile narrative.
Start with Roberts, who is onscreen constantly. This isn't a film where we get a look at the inner workings and nuance of the bad guys' criminal syndicate; it's all Merle all the time, and his foes are purely walking, talking bullet magnets. Writer/director Jesse Johnson isn't interested in giving both sides of the story. He's content to hang his hat on Eric Roberts and keep the camera almost entirely focused on him throughout. It's a good choice, because Roberts is a ball-buster here. What he may lack in agility and youth, the guy makes up for with a snarling tough guy demeanor and awesomely well-managed hair. The dude is just cool in this movie, a big win because the whole enterprise would have floundered with a limp antihero.
Part 2 is the action, and friends, it is glorious. While not acrobatic, high-flying, or particularly inventive, the gunplay is still a sight to behold. Johnson has gone all-out with what was surely a modest budget, producing some hard-nosed "realistic" mayhem. It's all gun-based, with no CGI to be seen. The blood flows like tributaries of the Mississippi and it's loud. Really, really, really loud. The big ending features Merle taking on the entirety of the syndicate in a bar shootout and the violence is through the roof—exploding heads, gushing throat punctures, blown-off appendages, sucking chest wounds, brain matter flying in slow motion, it's all here.
What doesn't work so well? The romance. I wasn't feeling the sentimentality between Merle and his lady love, though it pays off nicely in the final shot. Irina Bjorklund is beautiful and tries hard, but her character just wasn't that interesting, making that wannabe-emotional moment stumble.
The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen looks fine, grainy only when the style dictates. Johnson uses pronounced color levels to stylize his action, and it looks good. The sound is an aggressive 5.1 mix that's a bit soft in the center channel, but ear-busting on the outsides. One extra of note: a behind-the-scenes featurette sprinkled with cast interviews.
The Butcher is one of the more realistically violent movies I've seen in some time, a blood-soaked noir surprise.
Not Guilty. Someone pass me the mop.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Vivendi Visual Entertainment
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