George Gallo demonstrated an unstated finesse in screenwriting in his previous efforts, such as the likes of Midnight Run, 29th Street, and the Bad Boys films. Gallo’s latest venture into the action-thriller territory, Vanquish, evokes none of the writer-director’s established elan, but plunges audiences into a whirlpool of befuddled ennui. Starring Morgan Freeman and Ruby Rose (Batwoman), Vanquish revolves around the grim tale of a retired cop to extract the considerable cash he has made by running illegal operations over the course of a single night. Replete with atrocious visual effects and sound design, Vanquish emerges as a ghost of an exciting action thriller with a tired, deadpan storyline.
Cinematic opening credits are often used to establish key plot points and the overall theme of a film, as seen in the haunting credits of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 suspense thriller Vertigo. Vanquish attempts to achieve something of a similar effect, mainly through the elaborate montages of newspaper articles chronicling Damon’s (Freeman) heroic career in law enforcement via its opening credits. However, the end result only feels long drawn out and tiring, as it does not serve the purpose of adding any meaningful exposition to the film’s convoluted premise. Now retired and wheelchair-bound due to a targeted attack in the line of fire, Damon spends his days in his sprawling, lavish mansion whilst being taken care of by Victoria (Rose) and her daughter Lily (Juju Journey Brener). Victoria and Damon’s bond is posited as endearing, as the latter is largely responsible for granting Victoria a fresh start, who is a former Russian drug courier intent on leaving her past behind for the sake of her daughter.
Vanquish immediately launches into dubious territory via a church confessional sequence that implies that Damon is not the upstanding cop he has been made out to be. In fact, the entirety of the police force is made out to be ineffectual and corrupt from the get-go. Running a drug and prostitution ring of sorts from the comforts of his mansion, Damon is faced with a dilemma when he needs to extract cash from five uncooperative customers over the course of a single night. In an ugly turn of events, Damon shatters Victoria’s trust, blackmailing her to carry out the deed in exchange for her daughter’s safe return.
While this premise is not half-bad in theory, the execution is shoddy and poorly-planned at best, as Damon is not granted the requisite motivation or backstory to support his cruel actions. Desperate to save her daughter, Victoria agrees to Damon’s terms, which include making five stops throughout the night, which are undoubtedly mired in violence and mortal peril. Although Rose makes for a formidable screen presence as an expert shot and a formidable courier/assassin, her acting comes across as flat and devoid of agency when situated against her bleak predicament. Constantly battling the ghosts of her past, Victoria is forced to fire shots at almost every pickup, as her past catches up to her in the form of a thirst for deadly vengeance.
On the other hand, Freeman’s delivery is subdued and miscalculated, failing to match up to the veteran actor’s otherwise established appeal, as seen in films like Se7en and Million Dollar Baby. Throughout most of the film, Freeman acts as Victoria’s guide through her pickups, which become tiring to witness, owing to the clunky action sequences and the atrocious dialogue that adds nothing to an already-uninspired narrative urgency, or lack thereof. Vanquish posits a plethora of questions with seemingly no answers: was Damon always corrupt in his ways or did he become involved in illegal operations due to specific reasons? How is virtually everyone in the film involved in dubious set-ups, and why is Damon at the nexus of these machinations?
Also, is there a particular reason why Damon chose to sponsor Victoria during her parole and recruit her as caretaker all this time? None of these pertinent questions are ever granted compelling answers and Vanquish ends with a whimper and an attempt to resolve an otherwise messy scenario. The supporting characters in the film, including Patrick Muldoon’s Agent Munroe, are miscast, emerging as disjointed character additions with covert motives. In essence, no amount of flashy visuals or latent star power can save Vanquish from imminent doom, as it is a film rife with narrative inconsistencies, poor acting, and uninteresting stakes.
Vanquish was released on April 16, 2021 and will be available on demand and digital on April 23, 2021. The film is 96 minutes long and is rated R for bloody violence, language, some sexual material, and drug use.
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