tn_absolutiona.k.a. Mercenary: Absolution

ABSOLUTION is the latest from Steven Seagal, and his first to go straight to VOD before going to video this week. I guess it also played a couple theaters, although I have not heard any reports of anyone seeing it in one. I think this is more a sign of changing markets than of this particular movie’s quality. It’s not markedly different or better than his other recent works.

In ABSOLUTION Seagal faces a villain known only as “The Boss,” but I don’t think it’s supposed to be Bruce Springsteen. Either that, or there’s alot I didn’t know about Bruce Springsteen. Vinnie Jones (SUBMERGED, GUTSHOT STRAIGHT) draws upon his experience in BRADLEY COOPER’S MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN to play this tweed-wearing kingpin who works out of a professorial type office with globes and bookshelves and stuff, but his hobby is video taping himself in a fetish mask torturing and murdering prostitutes in a kitchen in the back of his 24-hour dance spot Club One.

Two things happen here. First, John (Seagal) and his life-debt partner of three years Chi (Byron Mann, BELLY OF THE BEAST, A DANGEROUS MAN, True Justice) have done a murder-for-hire on a  whore-loving, coke-snorting gangster called “The Afghani,” (a very good douchebag performance by Sergiu Costache, who’s actually Romanian) and are killing time before extraction by having some Johnnie Walker at the Danube Blues Club. Second, one of The Boss’s victims (Nadia, played by Adina Stetcu) escapes him, runs through the Club One dance floor, onto the streets, into the Danube, and literally into John’s lap, begging for help as The Boss’s underlings try to drag her away.

As usual there is a helicopter on this poster but not in the movie.
As usual there is a helicopter on this poster but not in the movie.

John is more reluctant to get involved in this bar squabble than, say, Forrest Taft. He just stares at her coldly… but then one of the thugs makes the mistake of touching him, and he breaks that sucker’s wrist before even bothering to stand up out of his chair.

But after he and Chi beat up all those guys they try to take off and ditch Nadia. She gets in John’s car and he keeps telling her to get out. When he finally gives in and brings her to the safe house he apologizes to Chi for “breaking protocol,” and laments how stupid a thing it was to do instead of trying to defend his actions at all. He’s not trying to be a hero. At that point he still plans to give her some money and drop her off somewhere, kinda how the mom in A.I. tried to dump off her robot child in the woods.

It’s narratively unnecessary that the guy they killed wasn’t actually the terrorism funder they were told he was, or that the hit was actually for The Boss. John decides to help Nadia regardless of any of that stuff, because he hears about The Boss killing her sister in front of her and decides that avenging her could be good for his karma. “I wanna find this guy,” John says. “I wanna find him and I wanna kill him. I need to do that for my own absolution.”

You see, and the movie is called ABSOLUTION. You see.

As is Seagal’s habit since he started the True Justice TV show, he delegates some of the workload to younger co-stars. It’s cool to see him reunited with Mann, who has been playing funny supporting sleazebags for him, but this harkens back to BELLY OF THE BEAST, where they were very loyal partners. Here they call each other brothers, and Mann gets to do a bunch of martial arts since Chi is an experienced fighter and operator. It’s also a role where he gets to be fashionable and stand around posing. VOD/DTV action may be the last place where you’re allowed to make smoking look cool.

John also calls upon a younger Russian friend named Sergei (Dominte Cosmin) who is also kind of a brother to him, or at least a cousin or pal. “Trust him,” he tells Chi. “I’ve trusted him many times.” I appreciate that in this movie we really can take his word for it, there’s not gonna be a surprise betrayal. Because of brotherhood/honor, etc. Anyway, I don’t like Sergei as much as Chi, but he gives Seagal an excuse to speak Russian, which I’m sure helped keep him in good spirits.

In a way I think the conflict is really about the contrast between these two club locations. The Danube is where John and Chi belong because it’s homier, more intimate, has live musicians, tables to sit at and contemplate and what not. Club One is warehouse sized with walls of TV screens and shitty techno dance music. (I did some research and this is a real club in Bucharest. DMX played there in March. DMX from EXIT WOUNDS.)

Both clubs are frequented by some of the same prostitutes. We know because Chi makes small talk with one at the Danube and then runs into her at Club One, “just hanging out,” she says. But he has to tell her to leave because he sees gunmen coming for him. Doesn’t matter how bad it is for business in their own club, they will shoot you right there on the dance floor. You can’t “just hang out” there. That’s more of a Danube thing.

And we learn from the epilogue (SPOILER) that “just hanging out” is the life goal of John and Chi. John ends up listening to records with Nadia, watching her dance. Weirdly – kind of pathetically, really – the last shot of the movie is Chi leaving the “Massage Salon,” where it has been established he enjoys special services. So the happy ending is he gets a happy ending.

ABSOLUTION is the third in the Alexander trilogy, a series of movies where Seagal arguably plays the same character. You don’t need to have seen the other two to understand it – in fact, I would argue that having seen the other two made it harder for me to understand it. In FORCE OF EXECUTION (the most interesting of the three) Seagal plays Mr. Alexander, an honorable gangster who “used to work for the guvmint” but they tried to have him killed so he and his young partner had to chop up a bunch of feds. Now he wants to end the gang war and “go up in the mountains of Thailand, where I learned my original bad habits.” In A GOOD MAN he’s Alexander, who two years ago was a special ops guy killing terrorists in Dagestan, but now lives quietly as a handyman for an apartment building in Eastern Europe. Oh yeah, and in his spare time he chops up Chinese gangsters as the vigilante serial killer Gwai Lo.

In ABSOLUTION he’s only called John, and doesn’t necessarily seem to have the same back story as either one of those, but the credits call him “John Alexander,” and director Keoni Waxman refers to “the Alexander series” on the commentary track. So I like to think this really is the same Alexander we’ve seen before, and he’s just a dude who has gone through alot of shit in his life. In a way it sort of literalizes the feeling you get from most of Seagal’s filmography that he’s basically playing the same character, just with some of the details changed. And in these backstories there have always been blurry lines between ex-military, ex-CIA, ex black-ops, ex-assassin and life-long freelancer.

Alexander always has a goatee (like an evil twin, has been my going theory) and muses in narration about what a bad person he is and whether or not he can be a good person at some point later. Otherwise, there’s less continuity than even the MAD MAX series. He always lives in a different place, goes by a different name, is atoning for a different flashback, has different close people in his life. In FORCE OF EXECUTION he has an adult daughter and a protege who’s almost like a son to him, but they’re not mentioned in the other two movies. In this one he has memories of a wife who died in a hospital of cancer or whatever. This seems to be a defining trauma for him, though it didn’t come up in the other two movies.

One good thing about the Alexander movies that can’t be said of all Seagal DTV: they each introduce a supporting player with surprising presence who threatens to steal the movie. In FORCE OF EXECUTION it was Bren Foster, the young partner who handled alot of the fighting. In A GOOD MAN it was Victor Webster, who seems at first like an interesting antagonist but ends up on Seagal’s side. In this one it’s Josh Barnett as top henchman Colt. He’s a big guy, so it’s not surprising he’s from UFC, but he impressed me long before his one fight scene at the end. He’s dryly funny going through the motions of his job while clearly annoyed by the people he works for.

Barnett is also on a commentary track with director Waxman and producer Binh Dang. The weirdest piece of trivia we learn from him is that in real life he’s best friends with A GOOD MAN’s Victor Webster, and in one scene he’s wearing an ID badge with Webster’s photo on it. He’s clearly a smart and funny guy, so I hope to see him in more movies soon. Maybe Webster will bring him along for the next SCORPION KING.

Here was a part I liked in this one. Check out this painting hanging on his wall:

still_absolution copy
I have to admit I was disappointed to hear them on the commentary track praising the production designer for how fast she painted it. I had assumed this was something Seagal really had hanging in his home. Anyway, I hope some serious collector of Seagalogical artifacts gets a hold of it and it becomes his or her pride and joy. Some lucky sonofabitch probly has it hanging next to the Holy Grail of framed Steven Seagal movie props, the Storm family portrait from HARD TO KILL.

Like always, and especially these days, Seagal mumbles alot and seems to improvise most of his dialogue, and there are some nuggets there. In the philosophy department we have a little lecture about how “Real warriors, they don’t really say much. They just do what they gotta do.”

And he just has a funny, matter-of-fact way of talking about violence. At one point they seem to be defeated, and Chi has been abducted, and Nadia asks what they’re going to do. John responds, “We’re gonna follow them, we’re gonna get Chi back, and then we’re gonna probly have to do some bad things to some of the people there.” Which, of course, they do. When it’s time for him to leave and have a showdown with The Boss he explains the situation to his friends and then says, “I’ll be right back.” I know the dude from SCREAM says you’re not supposed to say that in a horror movie, but in an action movie it’s pretty badass.

Not surprisingly Seagal sticks to his two current action mainstays: sneaking around corners aiming guns, and swatting people around with his monstrous aikido hands. I’m a big fan of that second one. Maybe the most notable thing he does, though, is the ol’ not-reacting-to-a-fiery-explosion-right-behind-him move, which he really hasn’t done as many times as you’d expect for a man of his history in asskicking.



There’s also a great stunt where he blows up an apartment and a burning dude flies out the window and lands on a parked car.

But his action highlight is the climax, when he finally faces The Boss. In one sense it’s a universal action scenario: the bad guy runs out of bullets, so the good guy chooses to put his gun down and have a fist fight. But from that moment on it’s a Seagal specialty, because it’s a completely one-sided fight. Since Jones is a rugged looking guy and we’ve seen him in plenty of movie fights, including as a super villain, and also since he’s playing this sadist, it’s a good character moment to see him confidently put his dukes up and then just be immediately and totally dominated.

He doesn’t even get one punch in. Alexander literally picks him up and wipes the bar with him. He bashes his head through glasses, bumps it repeatedly against the counter, breaks him through tables and other furniture, damaging the stupid club he owns. Eventually Alexander says “Get up and fight, bitch!”

But The Boss says, “No. No more.” Not like he’s scared, but calmly, like he’s a man of reason, he wants to stop this madness and work something out. So Alexander kicks him through a glass barricade, over the balcony, onto a metal pole. I hope they weren’t triplets. Now that he’s impaled a torturer guy, Mr. John Alexander is absolved of his sins I guess?

If you’re not interested in the Seagalogical themes and weirdness, I can’t really recommend any of the Alexander series. If you are, but only enough to dip one toe in, I would go with FORCE OF EXECUTION, since it has Ving Rhames as the bad guy and Danny Trejo doing weird naturopathic medicine involving scorpion stings. In this period of Seagalogy, where he’s not playing the traditional riffs as cleanly as he once did, I feel like he could use more show-offy flourishes like that. Still, as you can see by my review, there is plenty here for academics to dig into. The mystery of Alexander continues.


This entry was posted on Wednesday, July 8th, 2015 at 8:55 am and is filed under Action, Reviews, Seagal. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

18 Responses to “Absolution”

  1. I saw this, in a theater, in a suburb outside of Minneapolis. It was the first showing of its extremely limited run (two shows on the weekend, one on weekdays, one week only) and I went not expecting great things, but knowing full well that it would almost certainly be my last chance to see Seagal in a theater unless I ever haunted the same neighborhood as him.

    There weren’t any posters up for the film, even the guys at the box office didn’t know what the movie was about. I show up for the sparsely attended (maybe a half-dozen peeps) afternoon show and discover I’m the youngest person there by about thirty years (I’m presently well into my third decade myself btw).

    I’m at th theater because I obbsessively check the online movie listings every week as to not miss out on anything, for all the elderly people that I’m watching the film with I figure that they’re just regular filmgoers, guys who hit the cinema all the time and somehow wandered into an eastern Euro shot DTV Seagal flick purely by happenstance. I was incorrect.

    As the film unspools, I notice my fellow attendees enjoying the film much more then I, seeing some 70 year old lady egg on Seagal (“Git em’! Shoot her!” and such) weirded me out. Absolution isn’t the kind of film that inspires passionate love for it, to see somebody liking it so unironically, despite its many, many appearent flaws was actually kind of heartening. Even if it was kind of unsettling to see the bloodlust of the social security set.

  2. This “Boss” would be a good fight for Seagal:

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  3. The Original Paul

    July 8th, 2015 at 11:42 am

    Man, it feels like we’re never going to get another Seagal film that’s on the same level of quality as an UNDER SIEGE or MARKED FOR DEATH or even FIRE DOWN BELOW, are we? The last DTV Seagal movie I saw was ATTACK FORCE, which I kinda enjoyed. But bear in mind I was definitely laughing at it, not with it. That scene with the convoy of trucks driving down a foggy road… and not only do they forget to include the fog in two shots; when they do include the fog, the smoke machine is clearly visible in-shot!

    It’s kinda sad to say that this is where most of my enjoyment of Seagal’s DTV era is derived. It’s not appreciating the film for the story or characters of action, it’s laughing at the bits they get wrong. And while it can be entertaining, it leaves me feeling kinda sad that this is how I have to enjoy a Seagal film nowadays – not just take it on its own merits.

  4. Always a pleasure when the latest Seagalogical study goes live.

    I gotta ask, Vern: Are you still as excited about Seagal’s movies as you used to be? It seems like it’s been years since the last time you reported a quantifiable uptick in the quality of the work, and a lot of your praise nowadays is more about the ways parts of the films fit into or contradict his overall oeuvre and less about the actual films themselves. Seeing as how you’ve become the world’s foremost authority on the subject, you’re pretty much stuck reviewing everything Seagal does for the rest of his career, whether you want to or not. Do you ever feel like it’s just an obligation and you kind of wish you’d written LUNDGRENICS or THE ARNONOMICON instead, or does the fire still burn [down below]?

  5. Dan Harmon (creator of Community) stumbled on this movie in, I think, a hotel, and tweeted a bunch about it. I know making fun of Seagal’s appearance is considered hacky around these parts, but fuck it, I still laughed at “he looks like someone overinflated Eddie Munster, then replaced three quarters of the air with gravel and butter.”

  6. Majestyk – Good question. I’d say the answer is in the middle there. I’d say it feels more like a responsibility than an obligation. I don’t have high hopes for him getting back to the URBAN JUSTICE level of quality, let alone the FIRE DOWN BELOW that Paul mentioned, which dampens the excitement of a new one. It also says something that I fully intended to see this on VOD, but after getting wrapped up in Fury Fever the day of release never got around to it and waited for disc. (To be fair I haven’t VOD’d the new Marko Zaror either.)

    On the other hand, the last several have each had weird things about them, had better supporting casts than the original DTV era, and have been a little more enjoyable than I expected going in. I’m still impressed how well he manages to do the exact same thing while doing it different each time.

    JTS – Somebody sent me links to that. It was funny to see the uninitiated stumble across this era of his career. Every time some comedian or somebody or the producer El-P or somebody talks about Seagal publicly I wonder if they would like Seagalogy, but then they start making fat jokes and saying that most of them suck and then I figure it would be too positive or fawning for them.

  7. I’m sorry to say this guys, but fuck Seagal, hasn’t that guy hung out with Vladimir Putin? For me personally that’s a pretty big deal-breaker.

    I hope we can still be friends.

  8. That’s interesting and all, Vern, but THERE’S A NEW MARKO ZAROR?!!!

    [leaves Majestyk-shaped hole in wall]

  9. THE REDEEMER, the new Marko Zaror film is really good. I look forward to Vern’s review. Like most of Zaror’s personal projects it has good action and brings some original touches and ideas to the action genre. Also, the obnoxious gringo bad guy is very funny in it.

  10. Man do I want that painting of Seagal playing the guitar.

  11. I liked this one, too. As Vern said, it’s a solid entry that sticks to the template Seagal is using nowadays.

    For me, the best thing here as Byron Mann. He’s just a super cool cat. And I’m sure this is the first Western film I’ve ever seen that has people talking about “heng dai” – brotherhood in combat – in Cantonese. Someone clearly did their research.

    Or more likely, Seagal just ad-libbed. He seemed to ad-lib a lot in this. In fact, at times, you can see Mann just smiling at what he’s saying, in a nice way, like he’s used to it.

    I’d like to see more adventures of Alexander and Chi, in fact. They make a great team.

    I too loved that last shot of Mann. It was sweet. (The only thing that could’ve beaten it would’ve been to see the Seagal painting now had him added. Maybe just behind the big fella, playing the bongos or something.)

    I do wish people would give Seagal a break over his weight, though. It’s not nice. He’s big, we get it. Not all action heroes have to look like bodybuilders. Let at least one look like a relatable human man. Let’s be more respectful, internet.

  12. I have a T-Shirt with the photograph that painting is based on. Got it when I saw Seagal in concert and he signed the shirt for me. Had a laugh to myself when it showed up in the movie.

  13. Paul, ATTACK FORCE has a few extra funny moments for French people, since it supposedly takes place in France. For example, that convoy you mentioned drive all the way from Paris to Bastia. So I guess they have amphibious trucks since Bastia is on the island of Corsica. Oh no but wait, they say that Bastia is actually not a Corsican town but “a small village in the suburbs of Bordeaux”. And apparently, a small suburban village still has a cathedral, because it’s Europe and we have cathedrals everywhere. They also show a shot of “Paris” with a conspicuous suspension bridge (there’s no suspension bridge in Paris) and the Sacré Coeur right by the Seine river (the Sacré Coeur is a good 2 km away from it). I also like that the French cop introduces himself as “local” police.

  14. The Trailer for Seagal’s KILLING SALAZAR is up.


  15. New Clip from Seagal’s latest film CODE OF HONOR.

  16. The 2 reviews of CODE OF HONOR I just read told me that a) action film fans have no taste at all, apparently (“…but then again, action movie fans aren’t very picky about their late night VOD fare while binging on booze and pizza”), b) Seagal is fat and c) that it’s OK to deride him for it.

    There’s a lot of snobbery out there in mainstream critic land.

    I like the look of this one – sounds like his take on THE PUNISHER – the Dolph version, to be more specific.

    Hopefully it’s better than SNIPER: SPECIAL OPS, anyways.

  17. Woah, just got back from CODE OF HONOR (caught it in a theater — my first movie to nominally star seagal that I ever saw on the big screen [MACHETE doesn’t count]). It’s a weird one. I think probably his most competent vehicle in awhile in some respects (though it has a ton of the absolute shittiest digital gunshot wounds I’ve ever seen, bar none) but it’s barely an action movie, and Seagal is barely in it. But maybe he’s used kind of well. It’s definitely unlike any other film he’s done. I’ll be interested to know what Vern thought.

  18. Vern, you got a shout out! He calls SEAGALOGY “one of the best books to learn about Seagal”.

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