The "cheap thrill" has come back in a big way, thanks to companies like Grindstone and Lionsgate exploiting the Redbox DTV market for all it’s worth. What used to be a wasteland of utter low rent nothingness has now become an arena in which some of today’s best genre players can headline a sturdy exercise of their own. Our modern Bones McCoy – undeniably charming Kiwi lug Karl Urban – has been sticking his toes in this pond lately (see: his supporting roles in Acts of Vengeance and Hangman earlier this year). With Bent, Urban gets to stop playing second fiddle to the likes of Antonio Banderas and Al Pacino, and carry a rather twisty, lightweight neo noir that becomes a decent way to burn 93 minutes on a cloudy weekend afternoon.
Writer/director Bobby Moresco – yes, the same one who shares an Academy Award with Paul Haggis for co-writing Crash – adapts Joseph P. O'Donnell's novel Deadly Codes into what feels like an intended low rent franchise starter for Urban (think: the Direct to Video answer to Gone Baby, Gone). Danny Gallagher (Urban) is a disgraced cop, looking for the man who set him and his partner (Vincent Spano) up during a shady deal three years ago. Kicked off the force and sent up for a short stretch after that fateful night, Gallagher will stop at nothing to take down his target: a corrupt government official (Joe Pacheco) who's under investigation for possible terrorist activities by a femme fatale operative (Sofia Vergara). As you can probably expect, a series of double-crosses and death unfolds, leading Danny to face down his past in rather pulpy fashion.
Bent’s hammiest, most entertaining turn comes courtesy of Andy Garcia, whose retired crusader cop Jimmy Murtha becomes a surrogate father figure to Danny. Garcia is going full Friends of Eddie Coyle here, warning our man about the dangers of losing his soul while following revenge's path, to the point that we're practically waiting for him to relay a story about getting his fingers smashed in a drawer. Garcia is chewing into the Louisiana (standing in for Boston) scenery like there's no tomorrow, glaring and flipping his hair while delivering ominous dialogue that's a cut above your average Redbox thriller. One of the great joys of this bustling market is seeing older legends approach obviously B-Grade material, and Garcia is reminding us all that he was once a shining beacon of hope in a heavily flawed third Godfather film.
But Bent is still the Karl Urban Show, a delightful excuse to showcase just how potent the performer is as a leading man. Urban has long been the best part of just about anything he appears in – from stealing whole scenes in JJ Abrams' Star Trek revival, to donning the titular futuristic lawman's helmet and gun in Alex Garland's savagely violent re-envisioning of Judge Dredd. With Danny Gallagher, Urban is embracing his inner Robert Mitchum, owning this rather overt sadness as he knows this quest will more than likely end in death and despair, while staring at the woman he lost along the way (Kate Byers) from a safe distance.
On an alternate timeline, Bent was made during the '90s – when these types of adult thrillers could actually become Alex Cross-style big screen series – and Urban had a memorable career as a neo noir heartthrob, punching throats and stealing hearts in equal measure. He's a joyous throwback to the days when movie stars embraced a sort of antiquated, sepia-tone machismo that went out of style when hard abs and perfect hair were ushered in. The cliched line is that he’s a “character actor stuck in a movie star’s body”, but that stereotype seems rather apt when discussing Urban’s incredibly intriguing career.
There are some odd structural issues in Bent's third act that keep it from being better. For example, Gallagher is practically written out of the film's final showdown, which sort of leaves his arc somewhat incomplete. He also misses out on Garcia delivering a mind-blowingly odd monologue revolving around wild salmon that must be seen to be believed. Yet these idiosyncrasies are also what keep Moresco's movie – which admittedly hits many stock noir beats in tight succession – so engaging the entire time. He's clearly a writer/director working from a blueprint, but adding a weird, distinct flavor to Bent that elevates it above your usual 7/11 Special. Plus, you get to hear Urban deliver the line "I don't wanna die, but if I do, I wanna die last", which is a total treat unto itself.
Bent is available now on Blu-ray/DVD and VOD.