Joe Carnahan is a hit-or-miss director for me. His debut film, 1998's Blood, Guts, Bullets, and Octane, was enjoyable and his movie The Ticker from the BMW series "The Hire" (starring Clive Owen, Don Cheadle, Ray Liotta, and Dennis Haysbert) was one of the better efforts in that excellent collection of short films. Smokin' Aces was a bit of a wash for me, and I never saw Narc, but when I heard The A-Team was being adapted into a feature, I knew Carnahan's action-heavy style would be a good fit for the material. The final movie very much knows what it wants to be and has a damn good time being it. The A-Team is easily one of the most fun movies of the year.
Co-writer/Director: Joe Carnahan
Starring: Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, Sharlto Copley
Many may debate this point, but I think Carnahan is one of the most competent directors working today. He knows his audience, knows his strengths, and plays perfectly to both of them in this movie. The formation of the team in the early minutes of the film brilliantly captures the tone: light-hearted, brash, sarcastic, and funny. Part of this comes from his handle on the material - he co-wrote the script - and part of it is from his very obvious passion for the characters. More than any other "team-based" movie this year (with the exception of Inception), The A-Team gives each character his due and provides a real sense of history and camaraderie between the leads. Most movies with characters that "specialize in the ridiculous" are at least going to register on my interest level, and this one resonates especially well because of the combination of how well the characters are treated and how well the action works in the context of the movie.
The story is a typical "framed for a crime they didn't commit" deal, complete with the easy-to-hate Black Forest task force and smarmy CIA specialist played by Patrick Wilson. There's also the "hot on their trail" agent, embodied here by Jessica Biel (in one of her most tolerable performances of the last five years). Liam Neeson commands attention as Hannibal Smith, the leader of our foursome of heroes. Bradley Cooper oozes charisma as "Faceman" Peck, Rampage Jackson is a perfect update of Mr. T's iconic B.A. Baracus, and District 9 alum Sharlto Copley does some fine work as the crazy man-child Murdock. The script is kind of goofy, with action sequences that absolutely defy physics and common sense (especially the bullet-ridden final 20 minutes), but the bond between these characters and their relationships are so honestly portrayed by all of these actors that it's easy to excuse most of the film's issues because we're having so much fun watching this all unfold.
Within the main four, there are some interesting dynamics taking place. B.A. and Murdock's constant trickery (and Murdock's breakfast bribes) give some much-needed humanity to these guys. Face and Hannibal have a Mark Wahlberg/Donald Sutherland vibe from The Italian Job, the student-teacher-partner thing that works well with two especially likeable actors like Neeson and Cooper in the roles.
Aside from the ludicrous parachuting tank stunt, a much less buzzed about stunt occurs during a break out from a moving vehicle about halfway through the movie. I won't give away what happens, but the reason I like it so much is because the movie operates on a level where insanely complex stunts like this are regular shenanigans to the A-Team; the level of difficulty of this stunt is never commented on by any member of the team - they're just THAT good.
The Blu-ray is solid, including a great behind-the-scenes documentary about the making of the film which really gives some insight into the approach of Carnahan and company. And while a gorgeous picture quality is something that should be assumed from Blu-rays these days - it's almost 2011, studios, get your act together - unfortunately it's not a given quite yet. This disc, however, definitely meets the visual standard, and allows us to see Carnahan's action through a crisp filter. There's also an extended edition of the movie (along with the theatrical version, of course), a montage mash-up set to the A-Team theme song, character chronicles, and more standard fare like a gag reel and deleted scenes. But perhaps the most interesting bonus feature is an interactive commentary called "The Devil's in the Details," which sees Carnahan commenting on the movie as it's happening (telling stories like the time when Rampage accidentally knocked out a stunt man) and occasionally offering graphics with various information about the movie: weapons used, what stage of "the plan" the characters are currently experiencing, and more.
Like I said, this is one of the most enjoyable action movies of the year. It's not the smartest thing you'll see, but it's a blast, and we definitely need these types of movies in our summer movie schedules. I hope this movie does well enough on DVD to earn a sequel, because the continuing adventures of this crew is definitely something I want to see more of. If the main cast returns - including Jessica Biel and the actor who appeared in a small cameo at the very end of the film - and Joe Carnahan is directing, a sequel to The A-Team would be pretty damn awesome. Until next time...