Directed By: Sylvain White
Starring: Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Zoe Saldana, Chris Evans, Idris Elba, Columbus Short, Óscar Jaenada, Jason Patric, Holt McCallany
Studio: Warner Bros.
Film Length: 97 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.4:1
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese
Release Date: July 20, 2010
The Film ***½
In The Losers, Jeffrey Dean Morgan plays Clay, the leader of an elite special forces team consisting of Jensen (Evans), Roque (Elba), Pooch (Short), and Cougar (Jaenada). While on a secret mission to "tag" a target for destruction in Bolivia, they are betrayed and left for dead. Motivated by revenge, but only knowing their betrayer by the name "Max", they focus their efforts on figuring out a way to get home until Clay is approached by a woman named Aisha (Saldana) who claims to be able to not only return them to the USA, but to locate Max (Patric) as well. From that point, the team's efforts to extract some payback from Max begin in earnest, but they are complicated by hidden agendas, personal interests, and an arms deal invoving a devastating weapon.
The Losers is a pure escapist action bon bon surrounded by pretty packaging courtesy of Director Sylvain White. There is just enough story and character development to keep viewers from feeling like they are watching someone else play a video game, but not quite enough to make the film especially memorable. That being said, when it comes to get in/be amused/get out escapist action entertainment, viewers could do a lot worse (I'm looking at you, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra and forthcoming sequel).
The DC/Vertigo comic series was very graphically distinct with heavily stylized splashes of monochromatic colors creating a hyper-reality around a very cinematic commando team on a mission story. As such, it would seem to lend itself naturally to a film adaptation by a director with a similarly strong visual sensibility. While Sylvain White does not transcribe the graphic style of the comic to film as directly as Zach Snyder did in 300, he does apply a heavily stylized cinematic approach. White and his collaborators create their own hyper-reality via the use of super-saturated not quite natural colors and heavily manipulated contrast inclusive of blooming highlights due to pushed exposure and occasionally intentionally crushed blacks. Locked down cameras are used only on special occasions, but White and his editors use a very clear cinematic grammar that makes the action scenes just as visceral as other recent "shaky cam" films, such as the Bourne... sequels, but much easier to follow in terms of the action beats taking place and the geography of the space where it occurs. Camera overcranking is used frequently to slow down the action and emphasize strong compositions. This ties the film to its comic origins, but there were at least two or three instances (including one of the team walking that seems lifted from approximately 1,000 other films) where I felt like throwing a yellow flag and penalizing the filmmakers five yards for excessive use of slow motion.
Like most "men on a mission" stories, the characters are initially established based on their functional expertise (command, op-tech, tactical, transportation, sniper, etc.) and then fleshed out just enough to keep the story moving. Zoe Saldana's character of Aisha gets to work this formula in reverse as her character start's mysterious and gets fleshed out as the film progresses. The actors do a good job of working within these confines, hitting the right beats at the handful of opportunities where their character is allowed to have a revealing moment and looking capable enough during the action sequences. By the end of the film, they remain pretty shallow and sketchy, but at least they are less shallow and sketchy than they were during the prologue. Special honors go to Óscar Jaenada and Columbus Short who are given the sort of lines that would be very easy to oversell (e.g. "Never touch my hat"), and wisely choose to underplay them (at least by the reduced standards for underplaying that have been established in the post-Nicolas Cage action film era). Chris Evans does not fare quite as well with lines like "That's right, bitches I've got a crossbow", and "...ladies liking the angle of the dangle?", but when you think about it, who could? Jason Patric as the mysterious Max is given more scenery to chew than any other actor in the film and a terrific foil in underrated actor Holt McCallany as his chief henchman, but I do not think that he made the most of his opportunity. He comes off a bit too cartoonish to be credible as the formidable opponent he is supposed to be for Clay and his team.
One could easily criticize the film for putting style over substance, but since championing style over substance seems to be its raison d'etre and the film was marketed in such a way as to make that abundantly clear, this would be a pointless criticism. As such, the only subjective opinion for me to offer that would be relevant is my reaction to the film's style, which is generally quite positive. The hyper-reality created by Sylvain White and his production team is a fun place to spend a couple of hours. White's dedication to an action aesthetic is so complete, that almost any type of scene one could imagine is expressed through action at some point. An early fight scene between Saldana and Morgan (completely implausible outside of the stylized reality of the film) is choreographed like a sex scene. A scene used in almost every commercial for the film involving Evans escaping from a building finds comedy in sniper bullets. Even when the action hyperbole reaches the point where CG enhancement must be applied, it is done in a way that feels consistent with the film's style and grounded in live action film just enough to keep eyes from rolling. Several impressive honest to goodness stunts and practical effects also add to the fun, inclusive of a great shot in the film's final reel where a character dives into the ocean from a great height and is clearly followed by a man with a camera.
Trivial Aside: This film and Cop-Out, the other Warner Bros. action film released on Blu-ray and DVD on Tuesday July 21, 2010 both prominently feature Ram Jam's 70s hit version of Huddy Ledbetter's "Black Betty" on their soundtracks. I am not sure what has all of a sudden made this track a film soundtrack staple (perhaps Leadbelly's catalog is in the public domain, freeing studios from publishing royalties), but I would like to suggest a two year moratorium for subsequent action films.
The Video ***½
The cinematic style of The Losers is rendered accurately by this VC-1 encoded 1080p presentation letterboxed to the film's original 2.4:1 aspect ratio. The film is shot with highlights frequently overexposed to the point of blooming with filtering and/or post processing applied to achieve an intentionally unnatural palette of deeply saturated colors. I noticed a couple of occurences of what looked like aliasing shimmer on long shots that could be an artifact of either the video transfer/encoding process or possibly the film's 2k digital intermediate. There was one scene of a helicopter taking off early in the film where a strange blob appears momentarily in the frame. I do not know if it was a digital glitch or merely a production artifact of something falling through the foreground of a long shot, but it struck me as odd.
The Audio ****½
Boom! Boom! Bang! Bang! The DTS-HD MA lossless 5.1 track presents a fine near-field listening representation of the theatrical mix. The surrounds are used aggressively to goose up the action sequences, making them immersive as well as punctuating effects like gun reports with LFE enhancement and trailing reverb through the channels directionally opposite from where they originate on (or off) screen. The handful of scenes that do not involve fighting or shooting also use the 5.1 sound field to create an immersive, if less aggressive, listening experience. Alternate language Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks encoded at 640 kbps are included in Spanish, French, and Portuguese.
The Extras **½
When the disc is first inserted into a player, the following two skippable promos play.:
- Clash of the Titans DVD/Blu-ray Trailer (1080p video - Dolby Digital 5.1 Audio - 2:11)
- Batman: Under the Red Hood DTV trailer (4:3 Letterboxed SD video - Dolby Digital 2.0 audio - 1:13)
The proper special features on this disc are all presented in 1080p VC-1 encoded video with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio unless otherwise indicated:
Most of the on-disc special features are grouped under the main menu heading of Behind the Scenes.
First up is a featurette called Zoe and the Losers (5:41) that features cast and crew members offering general praise for actress Zoe Saldana for successfully crashing the film's boys' club party. It includes with some discussion of what she brought to the production such as how her background as a dancer informed her movement in character during action scenes. On-camera comments are offered by Director Sylvain White, Saldana, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Producer Akiva Goldsman, Producer Joel Silver, Military Advisor Harry Humphries, and Stun Coordinator Garrett Warren.
Under the sub-menu heading of Band of Buddies: Ops Training, are three additional featurettes:
Walking the Ops Walk (5:41) focuses on the weapons and special forces tactics training of the actors so that they could be convincing as an elite commando team. Comments are provided by Goldsman, Humphries, Military Equipment Specialist Monty Hom, Chris Evans, Idris Elba, Morgan, and Óscar Jaenada.
Transforming Puerto Rico (5:21) focuses on how the diverse locations used for the film were all found in and aroun the island of Puerto Rico. Comments rae provided by White, Producer Kerry Foster, Executive Producer Stuart Besser, Goldsman, Morgan, Holt McCallany, Prodcution Designer Aaron Osborne, Silver, Columbus Short, and, via an on-set moment from behind the scenes footage, Jaenada.
Going Deep into the Action (5:50) looks at the philosphy behind the film's approach to action and provides a few behind the scenes examples. Director Sylain White discusses how he was inspired by the immersive quality of first person shooter video games to try to bring a similar sensibility to the film's shooting style. It even includes some behind the scenes footage of the shot I reference earlier where one bungied stuntman follows another with a camera on a jump from a great height. Comments are provided by White, Elba, Short, Warren, Goldsman, and Stuntman Dave Schultz.
The Losers: Action-Style Storytelling (10:09) focuses on the source comic series with writer Andy Diggle and Artist Jock discussing the origins of their collaboration and the comic itself, and filmmakers discussing their attraction and response to the comic. Comments are provided by Jock, Diggle, White, Silver, Morgan, Foster, and Osborne.
Under the main menu heading of Extras is a single promotional featurette:
A First Look at Batman: Under the Hood (SD Video - 13:46) is a sneak peek at the next DC Universe "Batman" animated movie which adapts a story directly from the comics that focused on the death of the Jason Todd version of Robin as well as the iconic "Red Hood" criminal who is closely tied to the Joker's origin story. It mixes pre-production animation art, art from the source comics, and talking head interview segments. On-camera interview participants include Director Brandon Vietti, Writer Judd Winick, DC Comics Senior VP Creative Affairs Gregory Noveck, Producer Bruce Timm, Co-producer Alan Burnett, Voice Director Andre Romano, "Red Hood" Voice Actor Jensen Ackles, "Batman" Voice Actor Bruce Greenwood, and "Nightwing" Voice Actor Neil Patrick Harris.
Under the main menu heading of Deleted Scene (:45) is a very brief scene with actor Chris Noth who did not otherwise appear in the movie. It suggests a more far-reaching conspiracy against the film's potagonists than what is shown in the finished film, and was probably considered as a potential "credit cookie".
The main menu also allows viewers to select a BD-Live option. This connects to Warner's BD-Live portal, which includes the standard promotional features and "Host a Screening" functionality, but did not include any Losers-specific features at the time of this posting.
SD DVD & Digital Copy - As is the case with all recent Warner BDs of theatrical new release titles, a separate disc is included with an SD DVD of the film and a digital copy. The DVD presentation is bare bones with the film in 16:9 enhanced widescreen video, English Dolby Digital 5.1 sound, available English SDH, French, or Spanish subtitles, no extras, and no chapter menu (although there are 17 chapter stops). The video has visible signs of mpeg-2 compression artifacts, especially noticeable due to the constantly moving camera, and minor aliasing. The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is encoded at 384 kbps with fidelity suffering a bit due to the relatively low bit-rate.
The digital copy is on-disc, and is compatible with either iTunes or Windows Media formats. It is unlocked through the use of a one-time password provided on a paper insert to the disc case.
The disc is enclosed in a standard-sized Blu-ray case with an extra hub on the inner left side allowing it to accommodate the DVD/digital copy disc as well as the BD of the film. The only inserts are a generic "BD-Live - Here's What You Will Need" information sheet and a sheet with the code to unlock the iTunes or Windows Media digital copies. The hard case is in turn surrounded by a cardbaord slipcover with additional information about the included SD DVD and digital copy but otherwise similar art and promotional text.
The Losers is a stylish "men on a mission" action film that may not linger in viewers' memories for more than a few hours after they see it, but will certainly provide a few smiles for action junkies looking for 100 minutes of eye candy without any severe insults to their intelligence. It is presented on Blu-ray with decent video marred only by some minor artifacting and a slam-bang lossless surround audio track sure to keep the neighbors awake through the final reel. Extras are many in number but modest in length and depth.