It's hard to know what Repo Men's saying about Canada's biggest city by casting it as the nameless stand-in for a gloomy dystopia where people get their artificial organs repossessed. Can Canada's ego-bubble of strained politeness and surface multiculturalism so easily become a muddling-pot of venality and corruption? Is the TTC the perfect shiny-subway-gone-to-seed of futuristic transit? Does being remade as the dingy den of body-hunters mark the zenith of temporally transplanted Toronto as the go-to Everycity for a cosmetic scenery-minded, bottom-line Hollywood?
But then, it's hard to know what Repo Men's saying about much, what with its shapeless sense of the future, humdrum story and fairly routine plot mechanics. Jude Law does his best to bring some stark-eyed gravitas to his role as Remy, organ repo-man for The Union, but from his wife's cold shoulder to his partner Jake's jokey machismo, this flick mostly recycles old action-movie parts.
There are a few sparkling exceptions. The twist of the scalpel's that Remy gets more of a heart when, post-accident, he has an artificial one inserted: his newfound sense of empathy means he can't bring himself to take down blood-debtors and bring their unpaid organs back to the company. And his own borrowed heart will soon be ripped out of his chest, since he's not making any money to pay it off.
His heart's already been stolen (metaphorically) by Beth (Alice Braga), a nearly all-artificial singer down and out in the slums. Braga brings some soulful grit to the role. Their most sexual scene actually outstrips Cronenberg's Crash for a few disturbing minutes. And the story torques back nicely on itself near the end, tricking us with the homosocial revenge-fantasies of the genre and crushing us under the tyrannical body-politics of this near future.
The movie, though, never delves into that future, which could be frighteningly resonant, what with its credit-crunch and health-care concerns. Instead, this dystopia is darkness without any illuminating light, or any heart—even synthetic—beating at its centre. Who runs the government? Why does The Union have so much control (even though its corporate centre seems more like a branch-office out of Glengarry Glen Ross)? Why do so many people need artificial organs? The future's mostly set-decoration for the showdown between Remy and Jake (Forest Whitaker).
Repo Men never manages to be bilious, either—its only moment of black comedy seems to be when we see how young an underground surgeon is, though the point's unclear. Children's innocence being squandered? But innocence is impossible in a world this brutal, with the movie itself embracing a cold sociopathy in its fight scenes: bodies cut open, throats slashed, everything from hacksaws to hammers used to eviscerate someone in your way.
We're supposed to believe that Remy, an ex-army vet and now slaughterer with a tin heart, is a writer leaving behind a cautionary tale for his son. But it's a plot point as stand-in for story, anemically transfusing sentiment instead of transmitting sense. Our eyes, with no credit-paid optical enhancement necessary, can tell the truth—both the repo man and Repo Men are sorely lacking wisdom, wit or feeling.
Directed by Miguel Sapochnik
Written by Eric Garcia, Garrett Lerner
Starring Jude Law, Alice Braga, Forest Whitaker