With Jude Law, Forrest Whitaker, Liev Schrieber. Rated R for for strong bloody violence, grisly images, language and some sexuality/nudity. 111 minutes.
REPO MEN — not to be confused with the ’80s cult film “Repo Man” or the more recent cult musical “Repo: The Genetic Opera” — is likely destined to be a future cult film. Maybe it has something to do with having the word “Repo” in the title. Meanwhile, mainstream critics and audiences are likely to be divided.
In many ways this takes the plot of “Fahrenheit 451” and gives it a modern twist. The focus is Remy (Jude Law), a professional who starts questioning the nature of his job. Instead of burning books, Remy’s job is to repossess artificial organs when their recipients can’t keep up the steep payments. It’s a racket as his oily boss (Liev Schrieber) makes clear when he complains about the number of people making payment in full up front. Where the company profits is from the exorbitant interest rates. Any similarity to today’s insurance industry is doubtless coincidental.
Remy’s wife isn’t thrilled with a job that often leaves the defaulters not only a bloody mess but usually dead. His friend and partner Jake (Forest Whitaker) sees it as a big and lucrative game. Then during one repo call something goes wrong and Remy wakes up in the hospital with a new heart and a big debt. It’s only a matter of time before he’s on the run himself. Along the way he meets up with a saloon singer (Alice Braga) who is similarly situated, and he’s stuck trying to figure out how they’re going to outwit his former colleagues.
The problem for most viewers is that they won’t know how to take this. It’s violent, bloody and gory – we see the removal of the artificial organs – which might make this seem more akin to splatterporn like the “Saw” movies. (Unlike those exercises in sadism, “Repo Men” wants us to identify with the victims, not enjoy their pain.) Director Miguel Sapochnik, making his feature debut here, also exhibits a rather dark sense of humor, from the soundtrack featuring unexpectedly apt pop standards, to the final half hour of the film where Remy decides to take on the system. By film’s end it’s clear Sapochnik has no intention of giving us the ending we expect, which would leave complacent audiences talking about the action set pieces.
That’s unfortunate, because Sapochnik gets strong performances from actors not always well-served by their directors. Jude Law, in particular, has been a hard actor to warm up to, but plays Remy as a man having a moral awakening after realizing he’s been living a nightmare. Schreiber and Whitaker also bring some complexity to what might have been cardboard roles in lesser hands. And keep your eyes on Alice Braga, a Brazilian actress whose Hollywood roles have been getting more noticeable. She can be tough and tender, sometimes in the same scene, to great effect.
It’s hard to see audiences embracing “Repo Men,” so if you’re so inclined you may want to see it fast on the big screen. Then when it emerges as a cult favorite, you can say you were there at the beginning.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being I’ll Have What She’s Having: Behind The Scenes Of The Great Romantic Comedies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Brookline.