You Have Been Watching…The Purifiers

The previous ‘You Have Been Watching’ looked at the Jet Li and Morgan Freeman oddity Danny the Dog and it reminded me that I had a DVD that promised to be even stranger which had been sitting on my shelf for some time. Its name is The Purifiers and like Danny the Dog it is a slice of martial arts madness filmed in Glasgow in 2004, but that’s where the comparison ends. The budgets, cast, and everything else money related, are miles apart. One brings a Hollywood sheen to Glasgow, the other has the feel of late night shoots in the nooks and crannies of the city. Having said that both films are written and directed by recognised mavericks. Danny the Dog had Luc Besson and the man responsible for The Purifiers is Fife renaissance man Richard Jobson.

I’ve written before of my admiration for Jobson because he is not afraid to take risks and try something different. The Purifiers is not his finest work, that would be 16 Years of Alcohol (although A Woman in Winter is his most interesting, and visually stunning, film despite having flaws). He is a man who has managed to get the films he wants to make made, a miracle on a par with the loaves and fishes.

There are a lot of cliches on show, but this is a genre movie and it is one which is different enough to make it stand out in a crowded market. The fighting, on the whole, is balletic in its execution if far from convincing, and there are nods to great films such as A Clockwork Orange (a recurring theme in Jobson films), The Warriors, The Matrix and lesser texts such as Judge Dredd and even Roadhouse. Jobson uses some trusted faces such as Kevin McKidd, Stuart Sinclair Blythe and Lewis McLeod all of whom also appear in 16 Years of Alcohol, but the headline billing is shared with McKidd by Lost hobbit Dominic Monoghan, which tells you a lot, and martial artist and stunt man Gordon Alexander who is the star of this particular show. Apart from being the only lead who you believe could give you a kicking, he has a charismatic presence that shows up the other performances as being one dimensional. His climatic showdown with Kevin McKidd’s villainous Moses is laughable as it is obvious that McKidd was only there for about 10% of the time.

McKidd is perhaps the films biggest let down. His is a performance of moustache twirling excess as he spouts sub Nietzschean aphorisms and glowers and glares with such a rapid change of focus it’s as if he is watching a tennis match in his head. He is much better than this, and has been so before for Jobson, playing an onscreen version of the director in 16 Years of Alcohol. It is an instructive piece of acting as it highlights Jobson’s glaring fault. He is not good at directing actors. All of his films look and sound great, but they all contain some terrible performances, too many to make it a coincidence.

Here’s the trailer to give you a flavour:

The 1990s and early 2000s saw a run of crime and gangster related films filmed in Scotland. These include The Big Man, Strictly Sinatra, American Cousins, Small Faces, The Near Room and The Life of StuffThe Purifiers could be placed in this tradition but is really only for martial arts fans and Jobson completists, and although I quite enjoyed it I know that many people will hate it. In fact a quick look at the comments in the IMDB confirm this, but there is again enough evidence of the director’s ingenuity and visual flair for it to appeal. Jobson’s latest film, the anti-war The Somnambulists, is part of this year’s Glasgow Film Festival (a preview of which will be with you soon) and I for one look forward to seeing it. The man knows his cinema inside out, and knows how to make a film look great even on the tightest of budgets. The Purifiers is his weakest film, but we should be glad that he’s out there making movies as his failures are more exciting than many people’s relative successes.

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