A Man Apart, despite what the name might imply, is not a movie about loneliness or going your own way when society has failed. Man Apart is a buddy flick that’s come down with a bad case of Don Johnson slicky-cop-itis and tries to cover it up with thickly wadded goatees and Vin Diesel’s dependable voice of true grit.
In fact, Diesel isn’t apart from anything except his wife, who is killed right off in the trailer but lingers on for a good fifteen minutes in the film. Her murdered-for-revenge slaying pushes Diesel’s character Sean (but lets be honest everyone is going to see the new Diesel flick, not the new movie about a cop named Sean) over the line in his quest to seek retribution for his loss. But as luck would have it, he’s no ordinary cop; he’s an ex-gangbanger who, along with his boyhood gangbangin partner became officers to use their down and dirty connections to fight drugs on the streets. This enables him to find justice “Diesel style”, without wasting time with all those troublesome cop accoutrements like handcuffs.
Unfortunately, though A Man Apart has worked out a way to get right down to the dirty underside of action, Director F. Gary Gray has absolutely no idea how to film it. Granted, he did have the sense to avoid the MTV Shaky Cam, which spreads its curse on so many modern “heavy” action films. But Gray went for something much worse. To add some sort of tension, to what is an otherwise predictable film, he jumps into a series of quick cuts and extreme close-ups whenever there’s any interesting fist pounding going on. The result is utter confusion. It is never clear whose hand is punching whose, nor who is shooting what in what way and from where. Granted, this does indeed add a level of cheap, third-rate suspense to the film, since at no point is it clear exactly who is winning, but this type of suspense could also be called “annoyance” and really should be avoided, particularly in the action-drama genre.
The thing is, Man Apart desperately wants to be gritty. But you can’t be gritty if you gloss right over the more edgy and darkly motivated moments of the film. When Diesel beats a suspect to death and blows his operation, his reliable partner Demetrius (Larenz Tate) jumps right in to cover for him by making it look like a mistake. What should have been a relationship changing moment is passed over, dismissed with the glib catchphrase, “You messy dog, you messy.” Understandably, sometimes you have to move on, but you can’t be gritty without stopping to roll around a bit in the dirt.
Honestly, there isn’t much that’s all that noteworthy about Diesel’s character, other than the dingy goatee mentioned earlier, which he dons only as a symptom of his pent up revenge-crazed rage. Watch for the times when he shaves it off… that’s when he’s happy. Diesel is a good actor, but the real standout performance here is that of Tate, who plays his boyhood friend and partner. He makes it easy to buy into an unbelievable premise, by virtue of the fact that his character is the only one with a reasonably believable reality. Diesel has been set up with a posh beachfront bungalow, but Demetrius, supposedly of similar rank and pay lives ghetto style, in what is practically a tenement. He’s grounded somewhere in the real world while Sean is long lost in the fantasyland of the Don Johnson rich-boy cop.
A Man Apart isn’t truly a bad film, just a little lost. Torn between being kitschy cool and reality biting edginess, it never quite hits its mark in either cop drama realm. I think they were shooting for something along the lines of Training Day, which won Denzel an Oscar, but which did this group no good when they were looking for smart films to emulate. While the plot ultimately makes absolutely no sense, we’re lucky in that the word play and chemistry between Diesel and his crew makes this endeavor at least interesting. Even at his worst, Diesel has more screen presence than actors with ten times his movie experience; and that’s just barely enough to keep this piece of celluloid from the doldrums of all out drudgery.
Maybe most people won’t even notice, but the final premise makes no sense. Why does Diablo do what he does? What sort of plan is successful only when you’ve demolished your empire? Why does Diablo slaughter his own family?? We can guess, but its never explored. The only real clue is Diablo’s love of whores. From this, are we to assume that Diablo kills his family to free up more time for whores? Stripper lovin is a pretty thin piece of bread on which to spread an entire plot. The entire movie sets things up for a massive cliffhanger, only to drop viewers into a pit of shallow Vin Diesel attitude and empty results.