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Expendability -- Writer's Poke #314

I had a chance to watch Sylvester Stallone’s The Expendables this weekend, and it may be one of the best movies ever made.

Think that’s a bit of an exaggeration? I thought so too, until I started thinking about how much it reminded me of a true American film classic, 12 Angry Men. Doing a quick Internet search, I find that I’m not the first reviewer to draw this connection, either.

So, other than the fact that both movies feature strong ensemble casts, what is it that makes them so much a like?

Both ultimately reject the idea that people are expendable. In 12 Angry Men, Henry Fonda’s character is the only one of twelve jurors who wants to give a young man accused of murdering his father a fair hearing. Over the course of the movie, Fonda is able to show the other eleven jurors that no one is disposable. Life has a value that must be respected.

In The Expendables, Stallone’s character is a mercenary. He seems like a nice guy on the outside, but he views himself as dead on the inside. What stands out most to me in this movie is Mickey Rouke’s monologue. Rouke’s character has killed a lot of people, but he had the chance to save one life, and he admits to Stallone that he didn’t seize the opportunity. While Rouke doesn’t seem to mind the many people he’s killed, he’s never been able to forgive himself for not saving an innocent life when he had the chance. Like Rouke, Stallone has a chance to "save the girl," and he doesn’t repeat Rouke’s mistake.

That part of the movie's plot may seem like a tired cliché, but it is rather significant that Stallone didn’t save the girl just so he could be with her. He saved her because she deserved a chance to live her own life.

Maybe even more significantly, Stallone is willing to redeem Dolph Lundgren’s character. Lundgren and Jet Li are part of Stallone's team, but Lundgren has a grudge for Li’s character, and he does his best to take out Li, as well as Stallone in the process. But by movie's end, even Lundgren is given a second chance, perhaps illustrating that Stallone has truly learned that no one is expendable.

Think about the last movie or TV show that you’ve watched. While its direct purpose may have been simply “to entertain,” consider the ways it worked “to instruct.” What lessons can you take from this viewing experience that teaches you something about life. About yourself? About making you a better person? About making the world a better place to live in?

“I tend to think of action movies as exuberant morality plays in which good triumphs over evil.” – Sylvester Stallone


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