Acts of Violence can't seem to decide if it wants to be a "message" movie or just a good 'ol action flick. Add to that a sleepwalking appearance by Bruce Willis and you get a fairly forgettable, but not totally dismissible movie. The A/V quality is on par with most Lionsgate's releases (meaning it's pretty good) and there's some interesting bonus materials, adding up to a title that you may want to check out, but you're unlikely to want to own. Rent It.
Acts of Violence is one of those movies that is frustrating to watch. It will never be mistaken for a "good" movie, but there are small moments throughout where one gets the feeling that this story could have been so much more. You want to blame the cast and crew until you find out (thanks to the director's commentary on this release) that those involved only had 15 days in which to shoot the movie. That's a shame, as maybe with a little more development and a little more time to film, Acts of Violence could have been something a whole lot more than it is.
The movie stars Cole Hauser as veteran Deklan MacGregor who is still suffering PTSD from his service overseas. His back-story mirrors the screenwriter of this tale, Nicolas Mezzanatto, so you know it's something he hoped to focus on here, yet other than the opening scene and closing scene of the movie, Deklan's PTSD issues are pretty much ignored. Instead, the movie focuses heavily on the issue of human trafficking, as Mia (Melissa Bolona), the fiancée of Deklan's youngest brother, Roman (Ashton Holmes), is kidnapped from her bachelorette party and is the latest prize of a vicious criminal named Max Livington (Mike Epps).
Deklan takes Roman and his other brother, Brandon (Shawn Ashmore), on a rescue mission to get Mia back, but the events aren't without consequences (both legal and otherwise) for everyone involved. As for the police, they're led by detectives James Avery (Bruce Willis) and Brooke Baker (Sophia Bush), who have been trying to bring down the trafficking ring, although their police captain Hemland (Patrick St. Esprit) wants them off the case, as Livington is about to turn over the names of some more dangerous people to the FBI in exchange for his own freedom from legal repercussions.
If anything good can be said about Acts of Violence, it's that it moves at a very brisk pace (it clocks in at about 87 minutes, including the credits). Of course, when you only have two weeks to shoot a movie, you don't have a lot of time to shoot character-building material – and the story suffers because of it. That's a shame because the characters played by Hauser, Ashmore, and Epps all are on the verge of being interesting, but the movie never has time to slow down to give us a little development of them.
And then there's Bruce Willis. According to IMDB.com, he was only on set for a single day of shooting, although the commentary track seems to indicate it was a little longer than that. Regardless, the popular actor has no business being in this movie at all...nor does he give any indication on-screen that he wants to be there. We've all heard stories about how Willis only gives an effort these days if he's truly invested in the script. I'm not sure how he chose to be in this title, but in every scene he appears to be bored out of his mind. I'll give one example: In his first scene in the film, Willis is required to chase after a bad guy (played by UFC fighter Stipe Miocic). The baddie goes running away from Willis, and Bruce trots after him...that's right, Mr. Die Hard can't even be bothered to run. Of course, he catches up with him, but in real life, our bad guy would have left him in the dust. I'm sure the studio thought the addition of Willis would be helpful to this film – and perhaps they are right in terms of sales and rentals – but he's actually a hindrance, and the movie would have been better with an actor who was actually trying.
Overall, Acts of Violence is one of those releases where "what might have been" is more interesting than what actually makes it on screen. I can't give it much more than a rental recommendation, and I'm stretching a bit just to give it that. If you do, be sure to give the commentary track a listen, as it's far more engaging than the actual story.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Acts of Violence makes its assault onto Blu-ray from Lionsgate with a 50GB disc inside an eco-friendly Elite keepcase. An insert contains a code for an UltraViolet digital copy of the movie, and a slipcover with artwork matching that of the keepcase slides overtop. The disc is front-loaded with trailers for The Commuter, Unlocked, First Kill, Inconceivable, and Black Butterfly. The main menu features a still image of Bruce Willis and Cole Hauser that is the same as what appears on the box cover, while a montage of footage from the movie plays on the right side of the screen. Menu selections run horizontally across the bottom of the screen.
The Blu-ray in this release is Region A locked.
Acts of Violence was shot digitally using Arri Alexa Mini digital cameras and the movie is presented in the 2.40:1 aspect ratio. I believe this is the first movie I've reviewed shot completely with Arri Alexa Minis, and I like the results – which are similar to the standard Arri Alexa. Details are well-defined here, facial skin tones are consistent, and while the movie spends a lot of time in drab locations, there are a few scenes that burst with some nice color – including an early scene where Bruce Willis and Sophia Bush go to bust a trafficking ring, as well as a bachelorette party scene that takes place in a nightclub.
Black levels are solid, if not quite ink deep, and I didn't notice any glaring issues with aliasing, banding, or other defects in the transfer. While the movie itself isn't all that much to rave about, the image here is impressive for a low-budget movie.
The only audio (other than the Director's Commentary) available on this Blu-ray is an English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track that, like the video quality, is pretty impressive for a movie such as this one. Dialogue is crisp and clear throughout, and the track makes great use of the surrounds – both for enhancing the musical score by composer James T. Sale and to amp up some of the gun play in the movie, allowing for some moments where the audience feels immersed in the action.
In terms of glitches, there were none that this reviewer picked up on – so no issues with dropouts, difficulty hearing the dialogue over other ambient noises, etc. This may not be a big-budget movie, but the lossless track rivals many big-budget action flicks I've reviewed/watched.
Subtitles are available in English SDH, English, and Spanish.
Director's Commentary – Director Brett Donowho provides a pretty entertaining solo track, telling us about the process of making this movie as well as some fun behind-the-scenes stories about the actors. Here, we learn Donowho only had 15 days to shoot the movie (which was filmed in Cleveland, Ohio). As you might expect, Donowho comes off as thinking his movie is better than it really is, but I came away with a little more appreciation about what he was trying to achieve, even if he didn't pull it off.
Making Acts of Violence (HD 12:19) – A standard behind-the-scenes featurette on the making of the movie, with comments from Director Brett Donowho, Director of Photography Edd Lukas, and stars Cole Hauser, Shawn Ashmore, Ashton Holmes, Mike Epps, and Sophia Bush.
Cast & Crew Interviews (HD 51:30 ) – A collection of seven EPK (electronic press kit) interviews, which can be watched individually or back to back. They consist of: Brett Donowho (12:58), Cole Hauser (6:42), Mike Epps (3:41), Sophia Bush (4:38), Ashton Holmes (6:30), Edd Lukas (9:40), and Shawn Ashmore (7:18).
Theatrical Trailer (HD 2:26) – The original theatrical trailer for Acts of Violence.
Acts of Violence feels rushed and incomplete, as if the creators should have spent a few more weeks in character development before going in front of the cameras. The movie is also hindered by the presence of Bruce Willis, who acts like he'd rather be anywhere else but in this story. One gets the sense from the bonus materials that the director and writer were hoping for something much more, and while the movie isn't a total disaster, it's not worth anything beyond a single viewing. Rent It.