When was the last time a big-budget or indie-level action-thriller (or cop-vs.-bad-guy film) was made with even semi-realistic brushstrokes? You know…you’re watching this or that activity and your sense of reality and plausibility don’t feel rudely violated? Remember how it felt to watch No Country For Old Men for the first time? A bad guy, cops, chases, attack dogs, metal slugs in forehead, blood on the floor, life-of-death coin tosses, all that good stuff…and it all happened within a realm that you could easily accept as rooted in (cough) “reality”…you know, that combination of occasionally drab naturalism and shifting weather patterns and laws of physics and cosmic fatalism that guys like Julius Caesar and King Henry II (played twice by Peter O’Toole) and Woody Guthrie and Steve McQueen lived by?
I’m not saying the state of things isn’t obvious, but it needs to be said anyway. Because of appetites and expectations spawned by the ADD generation (a result of smartphones and lightning-fast wifi and instant instantaneousness) and the 21st Century CG video-game mentality and the drooling maniac zombie-hustler corporatists committed to the universal tentpole business and appealing to the international community of lowest-common-denominator morons, we have reached a point in which 90% to 95% of all action-thrillers and cop vs. bad guy films have become blatantly, at times ludicrously, and often cartoonishly unbelievable. The over-the-top, self-satirizing “meta”-ironic air quote way of making an action film is no longer one of the available options — it is pretty much the ONLY option, and nearly every fan of this type of film (including guys like TheWrap‘s Jeff Sneider) has either accepted this or shrugged it off or is afraid to say anything for fear of sounding like some stuck-in-the-past dinosaur.
But if you’re a genuine believer in the juice that a really good action-thriller, cop-vs.-bad guy film can deliver, you’ve no choice but to feel appalled and narcotized and…well, sickened. We’re in the third act of William Wellman‘s The Ox-Bow Incident, just before dawn, and I’m saying everyone who’s losing their mind these days over what’s happening needs to stand over here with me. I know some of you feel as I do.