Director: Paul Anderson
Jason Scott Lee/Caine 607
Trained from birth to be the perfect soldier, Sergeant Todd (Russell) eventually becomes obsolete when a new breed of genetically enhanced soldiers replaces him and his team. Todd is dumped on a trash planet, socializes with its inhabitants and discovers new feelings. But will he ever get to be a soldier again? Kick some of that sweet ass once more? You bet he will!
"I'm going to kill them all, sir"- Sergeant Todd
What the hell did people expect, "Apocalypse Now"? Did they go see this film with a pen, a pad and a stick up their asses instead of a tub of popcorn? SOLDIER was the most critically panned film of 1998 and I'm here to open that closet door, firmly step out and yell: I love SOLDIER!!!! Go ahead, throw stones, spit in my direction, toss your daughters in my bed…I don't give a damn! What's wrong with people? Lighten up!
Paul Anderson has a knack of choosing projects that mix genres. "Mortal Kombat" was a Fantasy/Martial arts flick, "Event Horizon" was Sci-Fi/Horror and now SOLDIER, a Sci-Fi/Western. Written by David Webb Peoples (who also wrote "The Unforgiven") SOLDIER keeps it simple and delivered for me on most fronts. On an emotional level, Kurt Russell makes it all happen. He speaks about 104 words in this picture but sometimes images are stronger than dialogue. I got more out of Kurt's wounded eyes and body language than a three-page monologue could've communicated. In the hands of a lesser actor, SOLDIER wouldn't have worked. Kurt kept me hooked to his character the whole way; his search for purpose after being denied what he is, touched me. All the dude wants is to be a soldier and when he eventually got the chance to do what he does best again…I was rooting for him like a loose cheerleader in the Lakers' changing room. For all of you who didn't find substance in SOLDIER I say...you didn't look hard enough!
On the action front, the flick gave me exactly what I wanted: extreme, gory violence. Nobody can accuse Paul Anderson of being a subtle director and that's what I dig about him. I appreciate his excessive nature and here, once again, he doesn't hold back. We're talking limbs being cut off, innocent civilians being mowed down and mucho firepower. This flick appealed to the macho, red-blooded "American" male inside of me. Is it exploitive? Maybe…is it freaking entertaining? For sure! Watching Todd play "Rambo" with the enhanced soldiers slapped a grin on my face and reminded of the old days when "one man army" flicks such as "Rambo 2" or "Commando" were the fad. I grew up on those films and seeing that approach put into use again, pleased my pointy ass.
The flick does have its faults though. On a script level, the film's twists are very predictable. For example, when Todd starts having that crush on Sandra (Nielsen), it doesn't take a gynecologist to figure out what was going to happen to her poor lover. Adios moochachos! And even though the plot turns in this picture were see-through, it didn't really bother me all that much. I found some kind of comfort in its predictable nature. I knew that it was going to give me exactly what I wanted. On a production level, I can't say that I really dug the "matte paintings" of space or of the planet surroundings. The effects aren't always up to par with the concepts behind them (I did love the huge tanks though). And on a character level, I found the main villain (Isaac) to be too one-dimensional and the casting of Gary Busey (Torch) distracted me. I just didn't buy him as a futuristic military officer. And what was The Commish (Michael Chiliss) doing in here again?
But overall, I came out of SOLDIER very entertained. It has a very engaging central character, a simple yet effective premise, some really good lines, a stylish/gripping opening and a smash my head into the wall action bonanza finale. Some movies are made to be appreciated for their subtle nature ("Blade Runner" is a good example) but others are just meant to be taken at face value. SOLDIER comes straight out at you and yells: "This is what I am, take it or leave it!" I took it, ran with it and had freaking blast! This line from the film defines the film's attitude perfectly: "My daddy always said: When you want to hammer a nail, don't do anything fancy. Just get a hammer and pound the son of a bitch"…YEAH!
This is Paul Anderson that we’re talking about…Mr. Event Horizon. "Soldier" is filled to the brim with blood and guts. We’re talking a knife in the eye, a blown off leg, an impaling, mucho gun shot hits, a broken arm, a ripped out eyeball…the freaking works.
Kurt Russell (Todd) is the glue that keeps this movie together. Not having much dialogue, he relies on body language and longing stares to express his feelings to the audience. Great job Kurt! Jason Scott Lee (Caine 607) isn’t here to act but he is here to show off his physique and kick some ass. He does it well. Connie Nielsen (Sandra) also doesn’t have much dialogue and much like Russell, she uses body language and her eyes to express her character’s inner thoughts and feelings. It worked for me. Sean Pertween (Mace) does fine as the well-meaning husband. Gary Busey (Torch) stood out like a sore thumb. All I saw was Gary Busey in a uniform. His acting was all right but I just don’t think he was the right casting choice for the role. Jason Issac (Colonel Mekum) does what he can with his one-dimensional role. More layers to the character would have made him more interesting. Michael Chiliss (Jimmy Pig) also feels miscast.
T & A
Even though the film is more of a “guy” film, the ladies will be happy to know that Kurt Russell worked out like an animal for the role and it shows. Brother is pumped! Jason Scott Lee also displays his physical assets.
Anderson is much maligned in the industry but I really like his style. Sure, he’s of the “music video” school of directing but when did that necessarily become a bad thing? I applaud any director that can make me feel using images and Anderson does just that here. His montage sequence in which we see Todd and Sandra fall for one another is priceless. His use of slow motion is dead-on and I really loved the surprise shot of Todd standing there with a rocket launcher. I almost leaped out of my seat and a joyful “what the fuck?” came out of my mouth. Nice job, Mr. Anderson.
The score by Joel McNeely doesn’t really reach higher than the average “Sci-Fi/Action” but it gets the job done. I really dug the use of that Lorenna McKennit tune though. Nice touch.
Much like "Event Horizon", SOLDIER is a movie that I re-discover after each repeated viewing. I always find new elements to love and always get to appreciate it more. Why was SOLDIER treated like a dime store whore? I don’t know and to be honest, I no longer care. Did it reach me emotionally? Yes. Did it slap all kinds of heavy-handed, macho action my way? Oh yeah! Did Kurt Russell rock the house? You bet he did! In my book, SOLDIER is one of the most underrated films of all-time. “Fear and discipline a-holes, fear and discipline”…
Kurt Russell sustained a broken ankle during the first week of filming, and got a week off. When he came back, all of the scenes where he was laying down were filmed. They followed that with the sitting-down scenes, then the standing-still scenes. Finally, the action scenes were shot. The last scene filmed was the "running" scene between Todd and Cain 607 near the beginning of the movie.
Among the garbage on the planet is the USS Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the F-117X Remora from Executive Decision (1996), a spinner from Blade Runner and a piece of the Lewis & Clark from Event Horizon (1997).
Writer David Webb Peoples has said that Soldier is a "side-quel" to Blade Runner (which he also wrote) because it takes place in the same universe. In fact, the vehicles used by the Blade Runners, spinners, are also used in Soldier.
Todd's service record, displayed on a computer screen, includes Receipt of the "Plissken Medal" (reference to Escape from New York (1981) and its sequel Escape from L.A. (1996)).