The actor Bradley Cooper recently exclaimed that he had no idea American Sniper would trigger such controversy. Understandably so. After all, the war-zone biopic from Clint Eastwood really isn’t about anything other than a target-happy Navy Seal and the strife his gung-ho tours of duty caused his family at home. And yet the film is among the most overcomprehended in history, with critics and stars-and-stripes patriots competing to find message and significance.
In contrast, we have Outcast, a China-set, 12th-century action drama that cuts with the blatancy of a broadsword. In the prologue, a Crusader (a gruff-voiced Nicolas Cage) questions the cause: “Haven’t we had enough of this, killing for hypocrite priests?” Fast forward to the Far East, where a warrior prince is passed over in the succession to the throne in favour of his peaceful younger brother.
Despite its absolutely clear pacifist (and atheist) bent, Outcast’s body count is mountain high, with Cage and Hayden Christensen starring as sword-swinging exceptional Caucasians who, haunted by their past killings and seeking a karma-kind of forgiveness, help the non-violent prince and his princess sister in their flight to the Pentagon-like Generals’ Residence. The dialogue is overwrought, with a princess who speaks for soldiers’ wives, who either have to explain to their children why their fathers haven’t returned from battle or have to fix the broken husbands who do come back.
Cage, as graceful and understated as always, barks big and, ever the actor, chooses to squint his blinded eye rather than wear a wussy-prop eye-patch. Christensen’s opiate-addled fellow, whose Irish accent is as consistent as Colin Farrell’s haircuts, couples religion with war, opining that men cannot know God’s will, and when they pretend to, it “ends in blood.”
As does the film, in which the two Crusaders turn crusaders. Ultimately the ham-fisted Outcast shares less in common with Eastwood’s American Sniper than it does with his Unforgiven from 1992 and that western’s regretful killers. Or, remember his line from The Outlaw Josey Wales: “Dyin’ain’t much of a livin’, boy.” And neither is killing.Report Typo/Error