Less than a month after Eva Green stole 300: Rise of an Empire from her male co-stars, transforming a typical macho enterprise into an inspiring showcase for women in the action genre, Mireille Enos has pulled the same feat in Sabotage. We owe her a debt of gratitude.
The latest cop story from director David Ayer (End of Watch) is a messy but enjoyable thriller – an Agatha Christie whodunit, filtered through the adrenal gland of The Expendables – that features the usual parade of masculine archetypes, led by a stoic Arnold Schwarzenegger and followed by tough guys Sam Worthington, Joe Manganiello and Terrence Howard. Standing next to them, at least a foot shorter but towering above through sheer presence, stands Mireille Enos, playing an unforgettable, drug addicted, philandering psychopath who ingests the scenery as eagerly as she swallows the mescaline she confiscates in a seedy flophouse.
Those actors play a DEA unit assigned to infiltrate criminal organizations and/or kill everyone inside them. They use their skills to steal millions from their latest raid but the money goes missing and, sure enough, members of their team start turning up dead. Skip Woods' screenplay, co-written by Ayer, doesn’t work too hard to hide the identity of the murderer – apart from not explicitly revealing who they are until the end – but these stories aren’t so much about who did it as how everyone responds to having a big, fat target on their back. The supposedly powerful men collapse under the weight of confusion and fear while Mireille Enos just keeps on trucking; it’s a bit like the plot of Aliens except this time Ripley is a cautionary tale.
The cast of characters in Sabotage ranges from criminally underdeveloped to surprisingly complicated, but although Worthington turns in an unusually sympathetic performance and Schwarzenegger does his best to stay enigmatic – not, generally speaking, his strong suit – it’s the women who take the center stage. Enos is a firecracker, and Olivia Williams is the picture of strength as an FBI agent trying to gain the trust of an immature boys club with everything to hide. She plays a woman with talent, integrity and humor, and despite Enos’s tendency to join strippers on the local pole it’s Williams who truly owns her sexuality, even though she isn’t all that wise about who she shares it with.
Sabotage careens from one slightly confusing plot point to another with an energy usually reserved a hit of crack, a technique Ayer has apparently employed to disguise the fact that his film is just plain overwritten. The simple pleasures of a maniac picking off supposedly unstoppable badasses one-by-one falls prey to far too many backstories and a mystery that culminates in a sudden, unnecessary shift to a totally different genre. The real joys of Sabotage are all on the surface: two great performances, a paranoid, brutish tone, the pacing of an adrenaline rush and a handful of action sequences worth remembering.