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MOVIES: The Big 4 - Review



There are some directors who don’t know the meaning of the world subtle or constrained; and in the case of Timo Tjahjanto and his latest - debuting on Netflix a couple of weeks ago, The Big 4, that can only be a good thing. Here Tjahjanto, famous for the brutal action flicks of The Night Comes For Us and Headshot, takes a straight-narrow cop Dina (Putri Marino) and pairs her with four down on their luck assassins: Alpha (Lutesha), Jenggo (Arie Kriting) and Pelor (Kristo Immanuel) & Topan (Abimana Aryasatya), for an investigation into the death of her father that’s every bit as brutal as you would imagine; and something, after the cookie-cutter Hollywood action that I watched yesterday in Bullet Train, feels like a breath of fresh air.

This might just be because I’m unfamiliar with Tjahjanto’s filmography, of which I’ve been assured by multiple people that despite the overt displays of bloodlust and violence; The Big 4 is constrained compared to his previous work. That said - The kills are creative, violent, and always brutal. Spectacular action gets creative by the second. A bazooka fires a volley of small cloud-shaped grenades into the sky that explode upon impact; and the cleverly choreographed action sequences that surround the film put even more established Hollywood franchises like John Wick to shame.

The visuals – from cinematographer Batara Goempar, are beautifully stylised – men standing around a burning house and walking away in the rain is suitably well lit – and even in the dark, the action sequences are crisp and clear – lighting even from car lights creates an instant mise-en-scene that makes each set feel real and lived in – the sheer attention to detail in say, Dina’s apartment, is second to none – you instantly get a set of organisation in her life as she lives up to the definition of the straight and narrow cop that the characters starts off as in cliché mode – but The Big 4 is smart enough to recognise that that the clichés are off the table from the word go, and has the often-crucial cop leaving her job to break the rules scene that action movies are so fond of kick into gear in the first few scenes; letting you know from the start that The Big 4 is not here to mess around.

Hollywood has a problem with action blockbuster comedies lately, and no more so is that evident than in movies like Bullet Train, where the comedy takes prevalence and the movie loses all sincerity without even basic action. In The Big 4 the film has the action in spades – and the comedy to back it up: the humour is often broad, but entertainingly so – and sometimes a bit too strained – if anything, the 141 minutes can feel a bit too much because in part of the comedy which is often used as a breakup of the action to give the audience a chance to breathe, and the film itself can be a bit too occupied with the plot overcomplicating the basis for a simple quest for revenge: the stakes are high, the sincerity is felt that makes its emotional beats land when they all need to – and the characters’ odd dynamic comes together well with enough room for them to grow beyond their clichés.

An extended prequel could have almost been cut entirely; but the bloodbath is worth the price of admission alone – gore ramped up to eleven with all the madness of a master who knows his way around the action genre – the beat of comedy-action-character-comedy gets the most out of its lively ensemble and never feels too repetitive – slapstick turned into action has been a vehicle ever since the days of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, and The Big 4 just finds a line that absolutely works.

Tjahjanto’s understanding of the body allows for many humorous scenes – the sound design is heavily felt at all levels – the crunching of the bones every time one is broken is audibly felt by the audience, and there are a lot of broken bones here. That’s reflected still in the sheer physicality of the characters – thanks to creating a solid foundation for a scene; we’re always aware in the combat of who each character is; their weaponry and their injuries and how they affect the rest of the scene. You’d think this would be a given in any action movie; but The Big 4 shows most of the rest of the genre films this year how it’s done: a solid redemptive story that benefits from placing its equally outlandish heroes and villains together on an evenly matched playing field. As mentioned; the longer the talky sections drag on for the less constrained the action gets – but every time a match is lit, The Big 4 explodes.

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