The best Steven Seagal film of the last 10 years! I said that to myself giddily as Absolution opened with Steve providing some narration about how he has lost faith in mankind. And how he did some bad things but he wanted to do one good thing before he died. I was pleading with Steve to make that one good thing he was going to do be this movie! And like some gargantuan-sized wish-granting Buddha with a horse hair rug stapled to his head, he freaking did it!
Looking back at his last film which Absolution is apparently a sequel to, (A Good Man also shot by Absolution‘s director Keoni Waxman), you can see the seeds of greatness if you do your best Seagal squint.
World weary Steve is haunted by past failure (is this a meta comment on his views of his film career?), but finally breaks out his unique brand of stationary low impact kung fu for a good cause once a sexy foreign gal gets in trouble. He is also teamed with a much younger and more in shape partner as a way to increase the action scenes without increasing Steve’s work load.
But A Good Man was hampered by such silliness as Seagal leaving his “White Ghost” signature at crime scenes and a dopey and dull story involving the hunt for an arms dealer. The story of Absolution is more straight forward and one you can get behind Steve handling. Steve is contracted to kill an Afghan terrorist hiding in Ukraine and while on the mission gets mixed up with a girl (Nadia) who has escaped the local crime boss who gets off on filming himself brutalizing and killing women, including Nadia’s sister.
Absolution somehow manages to have enough money left over after paying for Steve’s catering to hire an actor we’ve actually heard of in Vinnie Jones to play the part of the bad guy. It’s a brilliant move because he projects real menace in his (too few) scenes. You really think that he could go legitimately toe to toe with Steve in the final showdown. (Spoiler Alert for Seagal newbies: Steve ends up killing him without breaking a sweat – no matter how much better it is than most Seagal movies, it is still a Seagal movie.)
Again Steve is teamed up with a partner, Chi, who doesn’t qualify for a senior citizens discount with Steve at the Odessa Golden Corral. Byron Mann as Chi does a nice job and acquits himself quite well in all the fight scenes he has and frankly, you’d like to see him teamed up in an action movie with someone who wasn’t in his 60s.
Because this is a Seagal movie you of course get Seagal laying out their back story in such a way that merely serves to allow him to brag about himself. He saved a Chinese godfather so he got Chi’s services for a year. Chi reminds Steve of how he saved Chi’s life on a subsequent job prompting Steve to sagely intone “that’s what we do, that’s what we do.” Now Chi is his brother who will fight with Steve whenever the knives come out! And if you’re worried that this bromance might get even more serious, relax. This all goes down in a bar after Chi got done with a massage complete with happy ending!
Once Steve decides that helping the girl is going to be the one good thing that he does in his life (how awesome is Steve that he can say the one good thing he’s going to do is killing a guy?), the movie shifts into a high gear with Steve and Chi splitting up to find out who the big boss is that Nadia escaped from.
What follows is exactly what you would expect with a succession of sequences where various bad guys are dispatched by Vinnie to kill Steve and retrieve the girl. Waxman is smart to dress up these routine events with well shot, energetic fights. Credit him also with effectively establishing the horror of what Vinnie’s character is doing to women. The sickly green tinged moments in his basement slaughter house wouldn’t look out of place in a recent torture porn flick.
Waxman’s ability to keep the violence humming along is wise considering that much of what goes on in the film either doesn’t amount to anything or make any sense. After all the time spent hunting for Vinnie by Steve and Chi, how do they ultimately locate him? Steve finally just uses the cell phone of a guy sent to kill Steve to call Vinnie and set up a meeting. And why was Steve wasting his time chauffeuring around Nadia to retrieve the camera with the evidence of Vinnie’s character killing women? Who needs evidence? Steve already announced that his good deed was going to be killing the guy.
Still such complaints are like bemoaning the frame they used for the Mona Lisa. Generous helpings of brutality (Chi pours boiling water on a guy to get information, Steve cuts the throat of the guy he works for, Vinnie ends up impaled on a metal pole, Steve awkwardly embraces Nadia), professional looking camera work that doesn’t scream “low budget east European trash” for a change and Steve periodically saying absurd things about being ghosts and referring to himself as an “operator” with dead seriousness easily make Absolution the Seagal movie you’ve been waiting for since something like 2005’s Seagal classic Today You Die.
And don’t think for a minute that the movie is good simply because Steve isn’t calling the shots anymore. Does anyone but Steve think the tinted granny glasses he wears in the film are cool? And the hilarious painted version of his “Mojo Priest” album cover of him playing guitar hanging in his house definitely proves the super-sized sensai is still extra large and in charge.
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