Home Video Hovel: Elephant White
Elephant White is about Curtie Church (Djimon Hounsou), a mercenary hired to take out a Thai sex-trafficking gang. Church has been doing this a long time, and he’s a pro – we know this because he never, ever misses a shot, regardless of range, movement, obstacles, or anything else. He doesn’t have a moral problem with his line of work, as the people he’s hired to kill typically aren’t the most generous of souls. He does, however, start to wonder if he doesn’t have a higher calling after a former junkie/prostitute-turned-spunky-sidekick, Mae (Jirantanin Pitakporntrakul) comes to his aide, turning his attention away from his work and towards the larger problem of the victims of sex trafficking.
As you can well imagine, none of the above is handled particularly well – Hounsou can be a very good, compelling actor (people, please, see In America), but he’s here purely as presence, and his capability of crafting interesting three-dimensional characters isn’t called on at all. Hounsou is a very physically capable actor, and the action scenes are far more convincing for what he brings to it. As well-choreographed as they are (I have to admit, I was impressed), the scene come across far too rehearsed. A good action scene is one part dance, one part contact, and the players here have the movements down without landing a single punch; it’s not that you can see the distance between a fist and a face, it’s that you can see the actor slow as he approaches his target.
When direct physical confrontation isn’t called for, as when Church unleashes on a branch of the gang with what could be best described as a hang-cannon, it’s a little more impressive and a lot more enjoyable. But then again, having Hounsou pull a trigger, causing three men to fly backwards, doesn’t require a lot in the way of choreography, editing, or camera movement. It is the most base of thrills. Meanwhile, his targets do a good job playing people who have never fired a gun before – whether or not that is the intent, I could not say.
The most enjoyable aspect of the film, by far, is Kevin Bacon’s arms dealer, Jimmy. Bacon’s had a banner year playing douchebags of all varieties (in Super, X-Men: First Class, and Crazy, Stupid, Love.), and this is basically the same the same routine, except all of a sudden he has an English accent. I don’t know how integral his country of origin really is to the script – there are references to his English background, but they never really stretched beyond the incidental – but it makes his scenes far more compelling than they would otherwise be. Much as Michael Sheen has done over the last few years, Kevin Bacon seems content to say, “well, why the hell not?” and go all the way on a picture in which his decisions would never be questioned.
None of this adds up to a “good” film, certainly, only an intermittently pleasing one, if often by accident. For example, Jimmy is introduced mere seconds before being involved in a chase scene. Bad storytelling, certainly, but extravagantly so, and a little more entertaining for it. The whole thing builds to a really dumb, and in hindsight terribly predictable, conclusion (let’s just say I would have called it if I thought there was any choices made in Pitakporntrakul’s performance), before going to, yes, black screen with text sharing the evils of sex trafficking. Turns out the whole thing was a political statement. Or something.
From a technical standpoint, the disc looks about as good as it could. The film was shot, according to IMDb, on the RED camera, so the 1080p transfer should be a fairly accurate rendering. The colors pop, the blacks are rich and deep, and you can feel the sweat coming off those Thai hookers. The film, especially early on, has a pretty strong sense of location, and the transfer replicates a neon vision of Bangkok very different than what we saw in The Hangover, Part II. It looks really digital, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing (Michael Mann’s been celebrated in some quarters for same). We could hardly expect director Prachya Pinkaew or cinematographer Wade Muller to push the equipment in a Soderbergh-esque fashion anyway. The transfer represents the film’s original aspect ratio (probably?) of 2.35:1 (auteurism!). It’s crisp, clean stuff.
The sound comes through clearly, but the design is a little nutty. The weaponry sounds nice and strong, but the ADR work (when the filmmakers record dialogue in a studio and layer it over the existing track) is totally sloppy, often not matching up at all to the way the actors’ mouths are moving, and I noticed at least one instance of a line being repeated in the process. Again, the disc replicates all of this well, it’s just an unfortunate production error.
No special features, save for the film’s trailer (which layers gunshots over the soundtrack whenever someone is punched or kicked), so those seeking some insight into the motivations of its director or the difficulties in its production will have to look elsewhere.