On Deadly Ground Reviews
Seagal's Directorial debut is laughable
Steven Seagal considers the film On Deadly Ground to feature the most important moment of his career where he gives a long environmental speech at the end, so it is clearly a film he is proud of while not many others are proud to watch it because many people consider it to be a vanity project of his disguised as a social statement. So that is what I was prepared for, but the one thing that I was not so much prepared for was the quality of the script.
On Deadly Ground is Steven Seagal's Citizen Kane as it is a project that he has directed, produced and starred it. The one thing he did not do was write the script, and coincidentally the script is the weakest aspect of the film because the dialogue is just awful. Full of deadbeat lines and cliches, On Deadly Ground supplies nothing to its cast and wastes many talents. Some actors actually work through it, but it is hard to survive a script as bad as the one in On Deadly Ground. The collaboration between Ed Horowitz and Rubin U. Russin shows that neither of them can write dialogue or handle a decent story sensibly, and one wonders if each person was put in charge of each of these two script aspects while forgetting to collaborate together.
On Deadly Ground doesn't write up the finest story either.
The context of the story is poor. The first scene in the movie shows Forrest Taft blowing up an oil rig to put out its fire. I know this is the appropriate way to so it because somebody told me on the way back, but the film does not explain how this works and on the surface it is ridiculous to put out a fire by blowing something up so it sounds like an unintentional comedic theme, and the moment when Forrest Taft stands in front of an explosion looking the other way is a serious action movie cliche which gives it a generic start. And although it didn't bother me, apparently protagonist Forrest Taft is a former high level CIA operative but the film never explains this and leaves him as another random action hero who hasn't got his background explained. It would explain his confidence in blowing up oil rigs, but I had to learn it from the back of a DVD cover which is weird.
And although the story uses Eskimo culture as a theme, it touches upon it simply on surface level without going into depth with it, focusing simply on the places they live in and the naked women of such ethnicity. It captures the stereotypical visual aspects of the culture but is too unintelligent to actually look into the culture and plays it off as an expendable commodity.
Some scenes just don't make sense such as when MacGruder randomly begins smashing the cupboards and pulling the dishes out of the washer that belong to Hugh Palmer while his partner Otto tortures and murders him. Why was Doctor Cox throwing dishes around? I don't know.
Lastly, despite attempting to be a story about nature, the writing in the film barely emphasises it. The negative way that antagonist Michael Jennings' actions are affecting the environment are barely referenced and instead On Deadly Ground attempts to make itself a nature story by splicing in random moments of Steven Seagal fighting wolves and bears as well as a lot of random nature scenery. It is left to the implications but left out of the story, so On Deadly Ground touches upon its environmental theme worse than its Eskimo theme, so its desperate attempts to try do nothing but prolong he the film with appealing but pointless imagery. I'll admit that I like the sight of animals and that Steven Seagal harnesses some excellently beautiful scenery for his film which keeps it up ok a larger scale and makes it a mostly convincing story, but there are random moments of scenery which contribute nothing to the story.
Steven Seagal doesn't do too bad in his independent feature, but a large scale film and a $50 million budget is too much weight to place upon his shoulders. Steven Seagal is an inexperienced director, so his debut feature can not coincide as a film about the importance of the environment and a serious action film which proves to be its secondary ultimate flaw. I will give it to him that it isn't bad because many people have done a lot worse in their directional debuts, and he does make On Deadly Ground entertaining in parts while delivering quality action, but the weak material is simply not what he was ready for. If Steven Seagal started with smaller profile work then he could make a good action film which is bad in other areas, but due to the large scale of On Deadly Ground and the way it desperately attempts to touch upon so much when it is rooted in poor writing, it is not something that Steven Seagal can save. I can admire him for trying and I would say that the Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Director that he won was more deserved at Oliver Stone for directing the awful Natural Born Killers which is one of the worst movies I have ever seen, and the prestigious Razzie award should instead have gone to the script. Many people discredit Steven Seagal, but I saw his potential as a film director in On Deadly Ground and while it wasn't the best film, it is by far one of his most underrated films.
Overall, I half enjoyed On Deadly Ground because from an action perspective, it wasn't too bad. Although the quantity of action isn't really enough, the quality of the action in On Deadly Ground is impressive. There is plenty of blood and explosions without going overboard, and with all the awesome shootouts, fight scenes and tactical ways of killing the enemies that Forrest Taft executes, Steven Seagal kicks some major ass. It is all captured with some firm cinematography and strong editing against the backdrop of a strong musical score, so On Deadly Ground delivers the action and had some fine technical qualities which makes it a decent visual experience even it it's a shallow one.
The only real bad visual aspect is the occasional use of slow motion effects. It isn't excessive, but it's notable and the quality of it is weak.
And when it comes down to the cast, some of the actors simply cannot shine while others manage to do it just fine.
It's not hard for anyone to say that Steven Seagal is not a great actor. He is convincing as an action hero due to his extensive aikido training and as an environmental hero due to his legacy as an outspoken environmentalist, but as an Eskimo he is simply not convincing. He makes a half assed attempt at an Eskimo accent which is so weak that it almost isn't there, and yet it is and it is reinforced by the style of the jacket he wears. Granted I'm not too familiar with the accent, but it is clear that what Steven Seagal spoke with the tongue of was not the right answer. Once you're able to make it past that, that is when you realise that the true fault in his performance is the way he reacts in intense situations for his character. When he tries to act intense, his physical acting is mostly ok but his facial expressions refuse to change and his line delivery has excessive restraint on it which keeps him out of touch with himself. His only redeeming moment is his final speech. Although a widely criticised moment, I admired it because Steven Seagal stepped out of the character Forrest Taft and said something which he generally cared about as a person. For this one moment, Steven Seagal is the actual Steven Seagal without his action movie facade or his cocky demeanour. Although his final lines aren't great because the script is dull, it is at its finest moment during Steven Seagal's monologue simply because you can tell that he really has passion for what he is saying. Despite it being nothing but another vain attempt to reconnect with the vague environmental theme of the film, it is one of Steven Seagal's finest moments in delivering lines. So Steven Seagal does enough to pass.
Joan Chen doesn't deliver all that much either. Although she has proved to be a fine actress in works such as the TV series Twin Peaks, her acting in On Deadly Ground is so repetitive and unimpressive that it is easy to forget that she is even in the film. By the end of On Deadly Ground I had completely forgotten of her existence in the film and in comparison to all the other actors, she just faded away. On Deadly Ground pretty much doesn't even have her in it but she isn't especially bad so she doesn't really deserve a Golden Raspberry Award nomination. But it is hard to remember Joan Chen's presence in On Deadly Ground whatsoever.
But the rest of the cast prove to do a decent job.
Michael Caine is a very convincing antagonist in On Deadly Ground. He's proven before that he can play a character mercilessly in the 1971 British crime thriller Get Carter, and in On Deadly Ground he returns to that notion for the part of antagonist Michael Jennings, the ruthless CEO archetype. Yet the thing that elevates him beyond the role is the fact that it is Michael Caine in the role. The high profile Academy Award winning actor had a difficult time finding roles in the 1990's and On Deadly Ground is an example of one of the limited roles he could get. But he completely nails the part. Without stopping to think about the script, he just delivers his line with fierce aggression which makes him more than convincing. He is the one actor able to make the script not sound so bad because he takes a lot from it and makes a memorable villain, elevating On Deadly Ground above potentially being too melodramatic.
But the most impressive actor in the film is John C. Mcginley. The actor who is recognised nationally for his hilarious long running role as Doctor Cox on the comedy series Scrubs takes his charismatic aggressive persona and pushes it over the edge in On Deadly Ground so that he goes into very convincingly intimidating territory. I was very impressed with him because you can tell that many of his lines are weak and he doesn't try to change that. He simply delivers them so strongly that it is hard to notice it. I mean, if you study his performance very closely you can tell that the material is terrible, but he says the words so naturally that it is easy to miss. John C. McGinley's performance is impressive and proves just what kind of talent he has on board years before he went on Scrubs, and his intimidating demeanour is fiercely strong in grabbing the attention of viewers. I feel like any fan of Scrubs should watch On Deadly Ground for his performance if nothing else, because it is actually one of his finest film performances to date, and if he can work with bad material so well then good material should earn him many awards. John C. McGinley is thoroughly impressive in On Deadly Ground.
R. Lee Ermey is also a good touch simply as his legacy as a soldier and the fact that On Deadly Ground capitalises on that, even though it gives him too little screen time to do so.
So despite On Deadly Ground having a terrible script and Steven Seagal's direction being unable to balance the story's intended themes with a good quantity of action, it is a mostly well acted feature which is visually great and boasts some awesome action scenes.