Film review: Repo Men
posted at 11:00 am on March 21, 2010 by Ed Morrissey
In the future, the ill will be able to replace their failing organs with artificial body parts. They’d better not fall behind on their payments, however, or else Jude Law, Forest Whittaker, and a host of unsavory characters will come around not to break kneecaps but to repossess them. Repo Men tells the story of what happens when a repo officer has to get a heart replacement, and suddenly discovers a soul.
Set in a dystopian future, the plot bears some resemblance to Logan’s Run, although told in a much grittier and more grisly manner. Remy (Law) has few qualms about performing ad hoc surgeries on deadbeat clients for The Union, the company with an apparent monopoly on artificial organs and joints. He and his partner, Jake (Whittaker), have worked together since their days in the military, and the only reason Remy may end the partnership is that his wife may leave him over his work. Jake’s not happy about Remy’s dream to shift to sales and a quieter lifestyle, but all of that is forgotten when Remy’s heart gets damaged in a botched retrieval mission — and Remy suddenly finds that repossessing organs is difficult to do when you have your own “autoforgs,” as the devices are called in the film. When Remy can’t pay, he goes on the run — and has to wonder whether Jake will betray him and collect his heart.
This plot has a a few large holes in it. Without giving too much away, it’s rather difficult to believe that any company — no matter how unregulated — would bother sending people like Remy and Jake to retrieve by force what could simply be deactivated remotely, forcing the client to either die immediately or come back to them to get payments addressed again. The business model hardly seems realistic, either, with astronomical price tags that hardly anyone could actually afford. While much of the film portrays search missions to find deadbeat clients, today’s technology could allow The Union to use simple GPS tracking systems to pinpoint anyone at any time.
With that said, though, it’s still a worthy science-fiction morality play/cautionary tale in the tradition of Logan’s Run, Soylent Green, and so on. (If that doesn’t move audiences, it still provides plenty of action.) The underlying theme seems a little hostile in a subconscious way to the private medical device market, which is interesting given that market’s success in creating live-saving and life-enhancing devices at price points low enough for almost anyone to get replacement hips, knees, and so on, but there isn’t anything overtly political in it at all. If it seems to start turning into a superhero movie at times, especially towards the end, stick with it; the ending has more than one surprise, and it will leave you with some interesting philosophical questions to ponder.
Law gives a good, credible performance as Remy, but Whittaker is a bit overwrought as Jake. Alice Braga (niece of Sonia Braga) lends some grace as Beth, the drug-addicted singer that Remy rescues, but the real relationship in question in the film is that of Remy and Jake. Liev Schreiber lends some gallows humor as a smarmy sales manager in a smaller but critical role. The action is realistic and very bloody, as device repossessions are shown in graphic detail. Repo Men moves at a good clip and remains both interesting and entertaining all the way through to its surprising conclusion. Repo Men is a good, serviceable sci-fi film — not spectacularly great, perhaps not destined to be a classic, but worth a visit at the cinema.