ho knew Vin Diesel was such a good actor? After his
breakout role in "Pitch
Black," his blockbuster (and shamefully generic) turn in "Fast
and the Furious," and this year's hit "XXX", who could have
guessed that underneath all that coolness and guttural voice was an actual actor?
Vin Diesel stars in "A Man Apart" as Sean Vetter, a street smart DEA agent who,
along with his partner and former gangbanger brother Demetrius Hicks (Larenz
Tate), are the DEA's top crimefighters. They're smart, they know the streets
like the back of their hand, and they can get into crevices of the underworld
where regular DEA agents can't. After the duo, working in conjunction with the
Mexican government, busts the continent's top drug dealer (Geno Silva), it
leaves a wide gap in the drug business for a new boss. Someone calling himself
Diablo (that's "devil" in English) steps up to the plate and asserts
himself, leaving a bloody trail of dead drug dealers and gangbangers in his
wake. When Diablo orders Vetter's death, Vetter's wife Stacy (Jacqueline
Obradors) is killed instead, sending Vetter and Hicks on a crusade to end
Diablo's burgeoning reign no matter what it takes.
By every account, "A Man Apart" is a pretty
straightforward cop-revenge drama. Cop's wife is killed and cop wants revenge,
even if it means going beyond the scope of the law. What's most intriguing about
Christian Gudegast and Paul Scheuring's screenplay is that there is great
restraint going on at least until the obligatory ending. The screenwriters
and director F. Gary Gray ("The Negotiator") tries to keep the movie
and its plotlines in the realm of possibilities. As a result, much of "A
Man Apart" plays out as realistic and gritty except for the final, inevitable
confrontation between Vetter and Diablo, the mysterious mastermind whose
identity has remained hidden until the very end.
Until that unfortunate climax, "A Man Apart" is an
intense crime drama about one man's obsession and his continuing deterioration
into his former self that is, the gangbanger who breaks all the rules before
finding salvation in the law. Most important of all, "A Man Apart" gives
Diesel a chance to flex his acting muscles. The film proves that Diesel is a
real actor and not just an action star or a "movie star." Diesel gives
an intense performance as the cop on the precipice of a great fall. It takes a
lot and a massive gunbattle to finally push him over the edge, but until
then, Diesel's Vetter is forever walking the tightrope.
Luckily for Vetter, he has Hicks to watch his back. Larenz
Tate has done some of his best works in gritty crime dramas ("Menace
II Society" and "Dead Presidents"). Here, Hicks is not only Vetter's
partner, but also his brother by trials of fire. Not only do the two watch each
other's backs, but also they're willing to risk it all, and credit goes to Tate
and Diesel for convincing us of their mutual dedication. As Vetter dives deeper
and deeper into the abyss, Hicks is always there to pull him back and when
he can't, to jump headfirst into the abyss right alongside him. Diesel and
Tate's chemistry is exemplary and you believe every second of it.
"A Man Apart" is of course a crime drama first, and
as a result there's a lot of violence. Although there isn't nearly as much
violence as I had anticipated, with the film spending much of its time on
Vetter's investigation of Diablo's connections in the States before finally
going down south to take on the man himself. Gray and his screenwriters also
take the time to build up Vetter's relationship with Jacqueline Obradors (TV's
"NYPD Blue"), and as a result we feel Vetter's lost when masked gunmen
take her away from him in a late-night raid on his house. Diesel is so
understated at her loss that we know he's just brimming with fury and waiting to
explode the question is just how much will it take before he finally does.
There are actually only two major gunbattles in "A Man
Apart". One toward the end of the second act, during a DEA operation that
goes bad and ends in total carnage. (Think Michael Mann's post-bank robbery
gunbattle in "Heat.") The second one happens at the end, in that clichι
of all cop-revenge films, where all the parties involve converge on one location
to have it out. Besides a chaotic gunfight that is not all that exciting, the
ending sequence reeks of generic action. Vetter's much anticipated confrontation
with Diablo also proves to be rather weak. Why did I suddenly not care that
Vetter was about to get his revenge at last? Maybe it's because the whole ending
sequence is a bust, and will leave audiences with a "blah" feeling.
Why suddenly make everything so generic at the end? It doesn't make any sense.
In a way, "A Man Apart" reminds me of Tom Hanks'
Perdition." Both movies have powerful performances by their leads, but
both movies also have a weak premise that leads to an inevitable conclusion. And
when that conclusion finally does show up, we're not all that surprise or
all that interested, for that matter.