h1

Uwe Boll’s horrifying fantasy: “Assault on Wall Street”

August 18, 2013

poster

Wow! You almost had me, Uwe Boll. You almost had me believing that maybe you’d gotten a bad rap all these years for the likes of the Dungeon Siege epics and Alone in the Dark. I’m not saying they perhaps had levels that went unappreciated by the general public, or that Postal was, in fact, a trenchant commentary on our increasingly abrasive culture—I mean, I don’t think there’s that much PCP in the world to effect that kind of turnaround. But with Assault on Wall Street, I wondered if perhaps Boll had grown a bit as a filmmaker and had it in him to make a one-note, yet still effectively angry screed. And for two-thirds of the movie he did exactly that. But then, Boll had to give in to his worst instincts (i.e. the ones he relies on for 99% of his filmmaking oeuvre) and says, “Fuck it, let’s just shoot a bunch of people.”

Okay, so the good part of Assault on Wall Street follows the financial and emotional ruin of a decent blue-collar joe named Jim Baxford (a very good Dominic Purcell). Jim has a decent job working for a security company as an armored car driver, yet is still treading water financially due to his wife’s expensive medical treatments. Okay, at no point did I say this movie was subtle.

This is actually about as subtle as it gets...

This is actually about as subtle as it gets…

Much of the film—quite a lot, really—is spent watching Jim’s financial situation go from bad, to terrible, to Seventh-Ring-of-Hell during the brutal year of 2008. First, his insurance won’t cover the full cost of his wife’s treatments, so he has to run up his credit card bills. Then, his investments become frozen as his brokerage firm his indicted for some shady dealings. In short order, Jim defaults on his mortgage, is neck-deep in debt, and loses his job (since having a guy up to his ass in hock may be somewhat of a liability safeguarding money).

Every step of the way, Jim seems to deal only with self-interested profiteers of the economic collapse. His broker—the dude that got him into this mess (a perfectly smarmy Lochlyn Monro)—insists that there was no way to anticipate this situation and that risk is part of the investments game.  Jim borrows $10,000 to hire an expensive lawyer (a hateable Eric Roberts–the best kind of Eric Roberts) to recover his investments, but the guy buries him in dispassionate legal options, then effectively does nothing. Finally, the Assistant District Attorney who might conceivably be able to free up Jim’s money blows off a meeting with him.

"derp, derp, derp, gimmie more of your money, derp, derp..."

“derp, derp, derp, gimmie more of your money, derp, derp…”

While Jim is sliding into personal and financial ruin, we get cutaways to his brokerage house, where bigwig Jeremy Stancroft (a very effective John Heard) orders his minions to sell of their bad loans to unsuspecting dupes who’ll almost certainly get stuck holding the bag when they default. It’s basically the plot from Margin Call without any of the soul-searching.

When Jim’s wife commits suicide out of guilt for what she sees as being the root cause of all Jim’s misfortune (I said this movie wasn’t subtle), Jim strikes back in the only reasonably way: he dusts off his old Army M-4 rifle and begins killing investment bankers.

"No, I don't have a soul. Why do you ask?"

“No, I don’t have a soul. Why do you ask?”

And, yet, Assault on Wall Street still hadn’t lost me yet. I mean, I knew these murders were coming—the movie is titled Assault on Wall Street after all, and not Dude Gets Screwed Over by Wall Street and Everyone Else and then His Wife Dies. So, I pretty much knew a violent assault was coming. Plus the poster shows Dominic Purcell brandishing an M-4, so that was kind of a giveaway, too.

At first Jim simply takes out the fat cats cleanly and from a distance. However, after buying a load of weapons (to include hand grenades) from a skeevy arms dealer (a great Clint Howard, who deserves to snag an Oscar nomination for his delivery of “grenades are fun,” but probably won’t), Jim genuinely does assault Wall Street as he storms Stancroft’s firm and basically kills all the traders on the floor to the pulse-quickening sounds of awesome electronic music, and then settles things with Stancroft in the most contrived manner possible. And then swaggers away a hero.

swagger

“Slaughtered a bunch of people…maimed a few others…it’s Miller Time.”

Okay, that’s where the movie lost me.

Now, I know that Doctor Uwe Boll (yes, he’s a doctor—if he can do it, so can you, kids) has some deeply-felt opinions about the world that are also totally monkeynuts crazy (if you don’t believe me, then check out this article in The Onion AV Club). However, his rage at the players responsible for the financial meltdown of 2008 seems both well-informed and perfectly justifiable. The idea of an ordinary man driven to violence by impotent rage over the seemingly bottomless greed of the financial system and the government’s unwillingness to hold them accountable is a story that practically writes itself.

The problem is—and I can’t emphasize this enough—Jim flat-out murders people! And he gets away with it! Boll truly sees this guy as a hero. He’s like a character from a Western who tries to do things the right way, but eventually has to take up arms. Except in this movie, Shane just blows people away before they ever see him. I sat down to watch this movie anticipating we’d watch Jim robbed not simply of his money, but also of his humanity by the gears of the terrible system. As it turns out, Jim just loses his unwillingness to flat-out murder dudes.

In this movie bankers just steal money and drink wine.

In this movie bankers just steal money and drink wine.

Now, I can handle sympathetic characters doing unsympathetic or morally-reprehensible things, but it has to be framed correctly. I had no beef with the closing shooting spree in God Bless America (a film that shares a lot with this one) because director Bobcat Goldthwait kept a consistent tone of black comedy, while also allowing enough distance to allow the audience to respond critically to the protagonist’s violence. Boll might know enough about filmmaking to pull this off, but it’s clear from this film that he is firmly in Jim’s corner.

By being totally unrepentant about Jim’s violence, Assault on Wall Street, could have giddily daring and transgressive—maybe the revenge fantasy that flits through our find when we hear of another bank bailout—but Boll isn’t a good enough filmmaker to make the violence palatable. Mass-killings are a part of our world, and Boll does nothing to distract us from this fact. When Jim walks into that office wearing a blank, white mask, the effect isn’t galvanizing, it’s horrifying because we recognize the last moment of normalcy that existed in Columbine, Newtown, and dozens of other places made killing fields by people who also thought they had the right kill innocent people.

Our hero, folks. Not exactly Indiana Jones, is he?

Our hero, folks. Not exactly Jimmy Stewart, is he?

The sad thing is that for much of its runtime, Boll was making a very good movie about the financial crisis—to date, only Margin Call holds that mantle—but his juvenile instincts overwhelm the story. In the end, like Jim, he’s too blinded by his rage to recognize the loss of his humanity. Unlike Jim, though, there’s no omniscient storyteller to rehabilitate him.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: