I've sat through countless flicks in which a poorly implemented twist ending ruined everything that had come before it. Even the promising 'Flightplan' tied its story to an absurd twist that single-handedly ruined the film for me. So I was surprised to find a film that provided the exact opposite experience. 'War' is a fairly standard actioner that had me glancing at my watch until it dropped a startling twist -- a revelation that suddenly made the entire film worth my time.
The movie tells the seemingly straight-forward story of FBI agent John Crawford (Jason Statham), who's spent the last three years of his career hunting the notorious Chinese assassin Rogue (Jet Li), who killed his partner. When Crawford is assigned to lead the FBI's Asia Crime Task Force, he finally gains access to the resources needed to conduct a proper manhunt, and soon learns the assassin has returned to the States in an attempt to turn two local Triad and Yakuza gangs against each other. As a dangerous conflict in the criminal underworld threatens to spiral out of control, Crawford works to uncover the assassin's motives and bring him to justice.
'War' does a good job melding Statham's rough-n-tumble action-flick sensibilities with the grace and fluidity of Li's Eastern martial arts. The two actors create nicely contrasting characters, with Li employing a calm, soft spoken demeanor to hide his viciousness, and Statham playing Crawford as a loose canon with a volatile temper. It's these characterizations that make the third act twist so brilliant. Rather than feeling tacked on, the twist relies on the subtle personalities Li and Statham have developed from the beginning. Without realizing it, my instincts were sensing the nature of the twist long before it was even revealed. By the time the credits rolled, I felt I had misjudged the movie, and went back to give it another look.
Unfortunately, a second viewing only highlighted the problems that had bothered me the first time around. The most obvious issue is the script’s cringe-inducing dialogue. Making matters worse, the supporting cast is full of exaggerated cliches that action fans like myself have long grown tired of (including the petite hard-hitting Asian chick, the rebellious gangster who can't leave well enough alone, and the furrow-browed warrior in the three-piece suit). The ultimate twist may reveal the dual nature of Li and Statham's characters, but it doesn't offset the film's lack of compelling emotional drama -- every scene feels like little more than the setup for the next chase or fight scene.
To be fair, film fans less concerned with character arcs and story development may have fewer nitpicks than I did. I appreciated the action scenes, the fights, and the third act twist, but while these elements elevate the film above the usual dreck, it could still have been a lot better.
'War' arrives on Blu-ray with a decent 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer that initially looks pretty good. Colors are vibrant, fleshtones are spot-on, and blacks are inky -- there's a bit of blooming and black crush, but it appears to be the result of intentional post-processing work. Fire also looks remarkable and injects a healthy dose of depth into the image. Better still, I didn't detect any edge enhancement, and I was rarely distracted by grain in the picture. Compared to the standard DVD, this Blu-ray edition of 'War' looks spectacular.
Unfortunately, the picture suffers from inconsistencies that manifest in a variety of ways. Foreground objects look harsh and artificially sharpened at times, while background elements seem soft and poorly defined. Depth frequently fluctuates, with quite a few shots appearing flat and lifeless. Detail also suffers, at times changing from one shot to the next within the same scene. To top it all off, I noted obvious compression artifacts on more than one occasion, tarnishing the visual experience. Considering this is a new film, I can't help but be disappointed with the results.
Say what you will about the movie and the picture quality, the audio package on this release is outstanding. Lionsgate has delivered a thundering PCM 7.1 surround track that literally shook my home theater. Dynamics kick things into overdrive with powerful LFE pulses that compliment the track's crystal clear, high-end fidelity. Dialogue is clean and well-prioritized across the front speakers, while the surrounds offer a litany of ambient support that crafts an immersive soundfield. Even the film's music is a compelling part of the experience, with the soundtrack's rap songs integrated into the soundfield to completely envelop the listener.
If you have a 7.1 system, you're in for a real treat. I flinched three separate times in the opening warehouse battle alone, thinking that something was falling behind my head. Pans aren't transparent, they're invisible -- I could never lock on a specific speaker as the source, and could hear small echoes from every point in the soundfield. While I've enjoyed 7.1 tracks before, I can't recall one that struck me as being this convincing.
The film’s PCM mix is a reference quality audio track in every way.
The Blu-ray edition of 'War' includes all of the special features from the standard DVD, presented here in full high definition. Better still, it offers exclusive enhancements to some of the supplements which I'll discuss at length in the next section.
A flawed action flick, 'War' is only likely to appeal to fans of the genre willing to overlook its character and story flaws. This Blu-ray edition doesn't help matters, with an inconsistent video transfer and a host of boring, poorly conceived supplements. The one indisputable highlight of this release is an amazing PCM 7.1 audio track that will wake the dead. Audiophiles may sit up and take notice of this Blu-ray release, but everyone else should give this a rent before making a purchase decision.