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Film Review: "The Purge: Anarchy"

It only happens once a year


In a time when some politicians now kick off their campaigns in gun shops, armed yokels wave the Confederate flag outside the White House, a candidate in the South hosts target practice with President Obama's face for a bull's eye, a movie like "The Purge: Anarchy" must seem a gift from God to members of the NRA. Although a dystopian commentary on contemporary trends, the way we live now, the picture, sadly, may inspire more of those massacres that routinely stain the image of America around the world.

All those people who constantly mutter about the government "taking away our guns" should delight in the premise of the new picture, which closely resembles its predecessor. In the year 2023, a pious right-wing party, the New Founding Fathers, controls the country; their policies result in drastically lower levels of unemployment, poverty, and crime: what's not to like? The single cause of those decreases is the Purge, an annual night of cathartic violence, accompanied by prayer, permitting the citizens to commit any crimes, including murder, without fear of punishment.

In combining three separate stories into one narrative, the new "Purge" adds some greater depth and dimension to the original concept. One family, Eva (Carmen Ejogo) and her daughter Cali (Zoe Soul), falls into the hands of a uniformed, apparently official group that travels in semi-trailers, armed with cannons and machine guns, annihilating anyone they encounter; the second, a young married couple, played by Zach Gilford and Kiele Sanchez, flee a gang of motorcyclists wearing frightening masks. More or less accidentally, a single, well-armed individual called Sarge (Frank Grillo) bent on his own particular revenge, rescues the others and unites them under his leadership.

The plot settles into a familiar perilous journey through the deserted streets of an unnamed city. Sarge and his companions, stalked relentlessly by the bikers, the uniformed groups, and random individuals, encounter and escape a number of dangerous situations, including a shocking slaughter within the home of a hospitable family who initially save the desperate group; the incident, rising out of sibling anger and jealousy, indicates that the Purge encourages powerful emotions to explode into killing, a logical extension of the familiar subject of domestic violence.

Throughout the action the picture suggests further meanings to the Purge, involving some unpleasant facts about social and economic class. Poverty and unemployment drop because the legal killers, apparently assisted by the government, choose their targets among the poor, while the wealthy, locked behind their secure defenses, pay a dying man for the privilege of killing him, after uttering the special prayer of course, in the safety of their own homes. In a posh banquet hall elegantly dressed men and women bid for the privilege of hunting down a group of captured victims with an array of high-class weaponry...

Despite its almost rhythmic series of dangerous encounters, shootouts, and narrow escapes, the script indulges in some of the stock material of any Hollywood thriller. Its conclusion combines a couple of significant revelations with a hint of sentimental acceptance and closure. The final shocks may actually surprise more than the events that constitute the major substance of the picture.

Though stretching plausibility quite a bit, the initial concept, which I think first appeared in an episode of the original "Star Trek" series, follows a reasonably credible line of extrapolation. The numerous instances of massacres, which now enjoy their own genres -- mall shootings, school shootings, workplace shootings, college shootings, etc. -- certainly provide a reasonable basis for the picture.  The contemporary obsession with firearms and gun rights -- every boy should have his own bazooka -- along with the incessant frenzy of hatred whipped up by right-wing commentators, the tragic paradox of a blatant and even permitted racism motivated by the election of Barack Obama, create a perfectly understandable contest for the otherwise exaggerated subject of "The Purge."

The initial movie earned 10 times its cost at the box office, an obvious motive for a sequel; another addition to the series probably will follow. And why not? We all need our weapons to fight off whatever enemy we think is out there, especially the government, which wants to take away our guns. Lock and load, citizens, they're after you.