10 years ago a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn’t commit. These men promptly escaped from maximum security stockades. Today, still wanted by the government, they survive as soldiers of fortune. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire… The A-Team.
‘Keep it simple’. It’s a cardinal rule of most creative productions, and the 2009 big-screen adaptation of this 80s television staple is no exception. The basis, stated plainly in the show’s opening narration, remains completely intact. You have four paramilitary guys who are very, very good at what they do, using brains as well as brawn to pull off daring plans and always ending up on the wrong side of the establishment. However, the TV show never really went in-depth as to how these men met and learned to trust one another so completely, hence Joe Carnahan’s take on the A-Team.
Liam Neeson steps into the role of Colonel Hannibal Smith. We’ve seen him play both a mentor and a badass, and this role has him undertaking elements of both, but it also shows him truly enjoying what he does. Hannibal’s a guy who loves getting one over on the competition, being at least three steps ahead of his enemy, always having a plan and when they come together? Man. He LOVES that. Every smile Liam cracks is infectious, and every cigar a reminder of just how iconic both the character and the actor have become.
Fresh from encounters with Mike Tyson, tigers and midget gangsters, Bradley Cooper brings us a rendition of Lt. ‘Faceman’ Peck, the team’s infiltration specialist. He doesn’t hesitate to use his looks to gain a better position with the ladies (insert waggling of eyebrows here) and he loves a good time just as much as he loves his fellow Rangers. Something touched on here is, as someone considered to be Hannibal’s number 2, he’s learning all he can from the Colonel and seeks his approval perhaps more than the others do. It’s an interesting nuance to the character that keeps him fresh.
Believe it or not, even the mohawk has a story.
While he’s no Miser T, Quinton “Rampage’ Jackson steps out of the Octagon and directly into the mohawk and fists of Corporal B.A. Baracus. Gearhead, bruiser and sucker for a coconut curry tapenade, B.A. is also fleshed out beyond ‘pitying da foo”. Oh, he kicks quite a bit of ass, but he also inhabits what could have been a straightforward driving brick of a character with some legitimate pathos. While his neuroses are played for laughs more often than not, it’s nice to see a burly young man express emotions other than anger, lechery and/or stoic emotional distance in a modern action flick.
Last but by no means least, ascended fanboy Sharlto Copley of District 9 fame reminds us why Captain Murdock is called “Howling Mad.” Of course, the ‘howling’ might also describe the audience reaction to some of his antics. A daring, brilliant and fearless pilot, H.M. is also completely batshit insane. Or is he? There are moments in the movie when he shows an almost frightening amount of clarity and lucidity. While his bonkers behavior’s a riot, we also see a man who just might be pulling a fast one on everybody around him, even those he considers brothers. He rounds out the ensemble excellently and the team as a whole is a delight to see in action.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking, your nuclear steaks will be delivered just as soon as they’re done on the wing, which by the way is kind of on fire right now.“
You might have noticed I haven’t said much about the plot of the A-Team. Well, other than updating the origins of the team to Iraq and involving shady CIA agents and Blackwater-style PMCs, there’s not a whole lot here in terms of plot. The A-Team isn’t interested in weaving deeply intricate strains of narrative into a broader message about brotherhood, military interventionism or anything like that. It is, however, looking to take both its cast and its audience on a wild ride. It also maintains that a wild ride need not be a stupid one.
In reality, we know that even the lowest-tier police officer needs to fill out mountains of paperwork when he or she discharges a firearm while on duty. On the other end of the extreme, some action movies have the heroes blazing away at the bad guys without a second thought regarding the cost of their firepower, in collateral damage or loss of innocent life. The A-Team places itself firmly between the two extremes. Our heroes do make use of assault rifles, rocket launchers, vehicles and even construction cranes to pull off their gambits, but their goal is almost never the direct death of a foe. The TV show was almost completely bloodless, and while the movie doesn’t quite take things that far, it also doesn’t perpetuate violence for its own sake. To a man, these Rangers are trained in the judicious and intelligent use of firepower, and it’s refreshing to see this portrayal of canny and clever men of action.
Acting or not, isn’t it nice to see Liam smile like that?
In the execution of that action, the portrayal of just about all of its characters and updating a beloved 80s franchise into a viable 21st-century storytelling framework, The A-Team delivers in a very smart, very fun way. As I said, there’s not a great deal of narrative nuance here and most savvy watchers will see the big plot twist coming, but it’s forgivable in this case because these are smart, real characters thinking their way out of things just as much as they shoot their way out. It’s all wrapped up very nearly and presented with the professional aplomb and slightly crazed abandon that made Carnahan’s Smokin’ Aces such a delight. There are plenty of action flicks out there. But if you want your action delivered with brains as well as bullets, if you’re a fan of any member of this excellent cast, and if you can find it on your Netflix queue, maybe you should watch… The A-Team.
Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.