Generic thrillers hoping to combine the appeal of most Liam Neeson efforts in the last half-decade with the stylish, international action of the 'Bourne' franchise seem to pop up on retail and rental shelves with remarkable frequency. Chances are (if someone were so inclined), a person could watch one a week for 52 weeks without repeating a single film – and learn to decipher European road signs and/or maps in the process.
While these vague, espionage-centric action-films have become a common occurrence lately, it's also becoming increasingly common for them to have one or more widely recognizable star headlining them – which, in the case of 'Erased' happens to be Aaron Eckhart, the remarkably strong-chinned actor from such films as 'The Core,' 'Battle: Los Angeles' and, of course, 'The Dark Knight.' A familiar face stateside, his appeal in international markets might be less defined, so his presence here initially feels like a simple work-for-hire job, but Eckhart is also credited as a producer on the film, so one has to wonder if perhaps the intent was to create a franchise around his ex-CIA operative Ben Logan – a man with a specific set of skills (hey, it worked wonders for Neeson) – or if this was always intended to be a one-and-done type of deal.
Marketed internationally under the title 'The Expatriate,' the film is, for all intents and purposes, a spy film, as it features a handful of exotic locales (and by exotic, that means anything not in the United States, so, in this case, Brussels is pretty exotic), while combining the other elements that seem to comprise most espionage thrillers these days – i.e., general xenophobic paranoia, mixed together with a general distrust of governments and some sincere hostility toward gigantic corporations and allusions to their endless corruption.
Directed by Philipp Stölzl, 'Erased' doesn't waste any time in pretending that Ben Logan is anything but a former badass. Even though he's living in Brussels with his semi-estranged daughter Amy (Liana Liberato) and working a 9-5 job for a security company, Ben has been literally scarred by events in his past, as the introduction of the character makes certain to show the wear and tear that's adorning his back (and only his back, conveniently). Right now, though, things seem pretty normal for Ben; we get the sense he's still adjusting to life working in an office and raising a teenaged daughter he barely knows.
That is until Ben raises a red flag with his employer regarding patents for the security technology he thinks he's been hired to test for flaws in, and the next day, the company, and any history of Ben's employment or record of him living in Brussels, wind up being completely erased. In spite of his efforts to prove otherwise, Ben fails to verify anything he's been working on for the past few months; it's as if the company and the people he worked with never existed.
Although it has a solid set-up to this point, 'Erased' begins a rather rapid descent into the standard race-for-survival-and-answers that feels wildly reminiscent of 'Unknown,' as random faces from Ben's recent past (including his former handler, played by Olga Kurylenko of 'Quantum of Solace' and 'Magic City') show up, trying to terminate him and his daughter. This, of course, forces Ben to exhibit his "skills," which, in turn, forces Amy to realize perhaps everything she knew about her father has been a lie. It's all pretty standard stuff, but to its credit, the story manages to take the usual tropes and offer up different angles on them with varying degrees of success.
For instance, the film at least attempts to make good on its distaste for corporations by making the company in question less of a faceless entity by putting an actual character at the helm. In this case, that's Garrick Hagon as the ruthless James Halgate, head of the Halgate Group – which, throughout the whole film, people pronounce like "Hellgate," making it sound far more ominous than perhaps it otherwise would be. More successfully, however, 'Erased' manages to take the Amy character – someone who fits easily into the standard naïve teenaged girl archetype – and turn her into something more than merely a victim waiting to be saved or an anchor around her action-man father's neck. Amy doesn't necessarily become a fully realized character here – the script is simply too scant in the character development department all around – but her arc does grant a few satisfying scenes that exhibit some decent chemistry between Eckhart and Liberato, while eschewing tired clichés like an ex-wife, or on-the-fly romantic interest for Ben to enjoy should he survive his current predicament.
Stölzl succeeds in making many elements of his film feel less fantastical than, say, 'Taken' or the aforementioned 'Unknown' and that's admirable in a sense that it makes the stakes feel a little higher, but as the film winds up very much in an action-movie frame of mind for its last 40 minutes or so, the action sequences tend to fall a little flat or feel somewhat thrown together and otherwise rudimentary.
Still, it's not a complete waste, as the film takes the spy-thriller conceit of an agent's identity being discovered by his or her enemies and turns it on its ear by leaving the central protagonist in the dark (in this case, Eckhart's Ben Logan), forcing him to discover the true nature of the plot he's involved in and the identity of those targeting him, at the exact same time the audience is figuring things out. In a way, it's a lot like Alfred Hitchcock's 'North by Northwest,' but instead of an everyman being mistaken for an international man of mystery, this former spy is taken for a patsy, and his skills are used to pull off a colossal bit of corporate malfeasance that involves a maritime disaster, a class-action lawsuit and arms dealing to destabilize nations holding the mineral interests of said corporation.
'Erased' manages to show a few brief sparks of genuine intrigue and complexity, but it winds up losing those elements as soon as the storyline gives itself over to an action-oriented plot that comes up short on both story and excitement.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Erased' comes from Anchor Bay as a single 25GB Blu-ray disc in the standard keepcase. There are a handful of previews that can be skipped prior to the top menu, and, aside from the obligatory behind-the-scenes featurette, are the only supplements the disc has to offer.
'Erased' may have been a low budget flick that received little or no fanfare stateside, but it is a sharp, polished production that makes the most of its 1080p AVC/MPEG-4 transfer by producing a crisp, detailed image that maintains the look and feel of the film consistently throughout. Like many other actions films these days, Stölzl has filmed his movie with a heavy, blue. At times this works to give the film a colder, steelier look that on one hand actually works to the advantage of the storyline, but, on the other, it does begin to resemble every other internationally set espionage thriller of the past decade.
Thankfully, the heavy blue filter doesn't detract from any of the fine detail on the disc – which his better than average, but not great. Most scenes are filled with a good amount of detail like facial features and clothing textures; there is even a nice amount of detail in the background that successfully shows off the locations in which the movie was filmed. This little bit of authenticity is as important a feature in the film as the filtering can sometimes skew what would normally be an accurate portrayal of actors and surroundings. Still, there are some moments where the detail does tend to go a little soft, particularly in the faster paced action sequences where Stölzl has decided to do a close-up with a handheld camera.
Overall, though, 'Erased' looks very filmic, as there is a great deal of depth that's brought out by strong levels of contrast, highlighted by deep blacks and whites that can occasionally feel too white, but are obviously a part of the director's look for the film. The image here is mostly serviceable; there's not too much to complain about, but it won't be wowing any viewers either.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track on the disc is quite good, and helps to make the actions scenes – and particularly the climax – feel much larger and more intense than perhaps they really are. Most everything about 'Erased' plays out as part of a familiar formula, so it's no surprise then that the film also relies heavily on a cinematic score to help guide audiences through the moments when they're supposed to be feeling anxiety or pressure that the protagonist is in actual danger.
Overall, the score is perhaps the most impressive part of the mix. While the other elements all sound very good; the dialogue is strong and easily understood, and the sound effects utilize several channels at their disposal to make for an immersive experience that also pulsates with deep LFE when needed, the score takes the sound of the film and enhances it to a large-scale cinematic endeavor that seems contrary to this movie's relatively low profile.
As mentioned above, the rest of the mix is solid, with an impressive dynamic range that makes the most out of not only the scenes it has at its disposal, but also any home theater system it may be playing on.
Ultimately, 'Erased' suffers from a rather common affliction of most films these days, in that it feels like two underdeveloped scripts were combined in an effort to make a whole film. The two sides are certainly distinct, but neither is given the appropriate level of attention needed to raise this film above being a mere imitator of more successful, but not necessarily better made movies that have caught on at the box office. To their credit Eckhart and Liberato make for a convincing father-daughter duo that thankfully forgoes certain tired tropes of action movies, but, like certain story elements, their characters are woefully underdeveloped. That seems to be the theme for the disc as well, as the supplements only manage to come up with a basic featurette that isn't exactly compelling. Still, with excellent sound, and picture quality that's good, but not great, this one can be a serviceable feature for those with nothing else on their plate. A rental at best.