Collateral Damage (2002)
February 13, 2024 10:17 AM - Subscribe

After his family is killed by a terrorist act, a firefighter goes in search of the one responsible.

A family man (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is plunged into the complex and dangerous world of international terrorism after he loses his wife and child in a bombing. Frustrated with the official investigation and haunted by the thought that the man responsible for murdering his family might never be brought to justice, he takes matters into his own hands and tracks his quarry ultimately to Colombia.

Ella Taylor: Never mind that the callous euphemism from which the movie takes its title, a bit of blarney created by our own military, is blithely projected into the mouth of the enemy. To be American, as Hollywood movies have been telling us since World War II, is to fight a morally refined war — a claim that’s not merely refutable by history, but also signals a deluded naiveté about the practice of war itself, which allows for few such niceties.

Of course, there’s no reason to sentimentalize the Colombian civil war, none of whose factions can be described as good liberals. Still, Collateral Damage is far more telling in what it suggests, unwittingly for the most part, about us, about the rabid mixture of hubris, paranoia, xenophobia and downright muddleheadedness with which we define our own place on the stage of world terrorism, not to mention the bizarre uses to which American individualism can be put under pressure. That the movie offers a ringing endorsement of vigilante justice is par for the course: It’s an Arnold Schwarzenegger thriller. Yet in the process of tracking down the man who not only killed his family, but — in a plot twist whose eerie prescience must have the distributors reaching for their Maalox — plans to blow up some crucial government buildings in Washington, D.C., Gordy finds himself a target not only of El Lobo, but of a ruthless CIA loose cannon, represented in a weaselly turn by the Canadian actor Elias Koteas. Meanwhile, scenes of U.S.-sponsored planes zooming in to flatten the drug baron’s hideaway evoke shades of Apocalypse Now, and fears of the Vietnamization of American involvement in Colombia. Collateral Damage may be pressing its Hollywood-liberal credentials here, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the vast majority of American moviegoers see in Gordy a reflection of their own mistrust of institutions, be they “theirs” or ours. It may, after all, be easier for Americans to love a firefighter than it is for them to love their government.

Yazmin Ghonaim: The title of the film, "collateral damage", is alluded to in one scene with the fireman's refusal to accept the death of his wife and son as the random "side-effect" of an act of "terrorism". (One could argue, however, that more than an act of terrorism, the fatal event depicted early in the film was actually an assassin's attempt to kill an important Colombian politician.) When the angered fireman finds no real support from government officials in hunting down The Wolf, he realizes he must act alone. When he does, a somewhat suspenseful plot unfolds and takes the character to the jungles and jails of Colombia. Throughout this journey, Gordon Brewer finds a Canadian prisoner (amusingly played by John Turturro: The Luzhin Defence); and arrives at a cocaine plant, run by the lively Felix (John Leguizamo: Moulin Rouge). While Turturro and Leguizamo add a degree of comic relief and remind the viewer of the value of a good performance, Collateral Damage soon proceeds with its hero's agenda and reduces itself to a highly simplified story about an overly aggressive victim, who is conveniently empowered to carry out extraordinary tasks in unknown territories. This approach, while jingoistic in nature, lures viewers into identifying as victims with the protagonist, momentarily distracting them from possible feelings of impotence with regards to the truly complex repercussions of real-life terrorism.

Connie Ogle: Despite all this action, Collateral Damage plays out slowly, with lots of unnecessary talking between explosions and occasional automatic weapons fire. It's the stuff of every mediocre action movie ever made and enough to make you wonder if it isn't finally time for the genre to die a quiet, dignified death.

But wait. All is not lost. Collateral Damage does feature an unexpected twist or two and surprisingly even offers a plausible explanation for The Wolf's viciousness. And the film deserves some credit for touching on the notion that perhaps personal revenge is not so important as the fate of an entire country. Most action films just blow things up without even stopping to consider such heresy.

posted by Carillon (1 comment total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
What a weird movie. It's not good, and just amazingly poorly timed, but also neither Francesca Neri nor Cliff Curtis are from Latin America. It's very weird casting, though I do like the twist that Selena Perrini is the actual wolf. Still it's crazy to me that Andrew Davies made this and the fugitive, I guess it shows how important a good script is.
posted by Carillon at 10:21 AM on February 13

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