The Purge: Election Year
directed by James DeMonaco
If I had known that Mykelti Williamson played a prominent role in this movie I probably would have skipped it. Everyone has to eat I guess but something about many of Williamson's roles just rubs me the wrong way. If you're looking for a black actor to spout some cringe worthy dialogue then Williamson's your man. I've always looked a little askance at him since his turn in Species 2 where he grabs a machete and says he wants "...to get African on some alien a$$" (and where coincidentally he's the only male human the sex hungry female alien has no desire to mate with). In the latest Purge installment Williamson's character is basically the Wise Old Negro who serves no real purpose except to provide service to other (non-black) people. He gets to have wonderful dialogue like saying that his team is like "a bucket of fried chicken about to be attacked by hungry negroes" or telling other black people that he "likes these white folks so I'm not going to let you negroes kill them". Hmm. We all have different things that annoy us I guess but a lot of the dialogue and assumptions in this movie seemed more than a little reactionary to me. Williamson is not exactly a desperate young actor who's willing to take any role to get his name out there so he can stop living in a studio apartment. I would have thought that a black actor with his success could have requested some script changes but who knows. His sensitivities are not mine. Ultimately it's all just pretend fun and games, right? Anyhow my hangups aside The Purge: Election Year is not a great movie, either in execution or in the meaning behind it. It's heavy handed and over the top. Every now and then there is a good scene but usually it's something that viewers have seen before, whether it be from Death Wish or strangely enough Jaws. If you are a person who is sickened by cinematic violence then this probably isn't the film for you. It's not super explicit but it does have more than its share of mayhem. But as this is the third installment in this series most of us have figured out by now that there's bloodshed in this film.
The New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA) political party is at a crossroads. They've been in power for quite some time now (there are plenty of references to Purge Nights many years ago) but they still haven't managed to do away with multiparty democracy. They are facing an upcoming Presidential election in which a woman Senator, Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell), is leading the NFFA candidate, frumpy old weirdo Minister Edwidge Owens (Kyle Secor). Senator Roan survived Purge Night almost two decades ago but her family did not. Unsurprisingly she's made eliminating the Purge the centerpiece of her campaign. Roan is younger than Clinton obviously, but the film definitely makes a few connections between the fictional election and our just completed process. The racial and class elements of the Purge are out front. Purging is primarily about eliminating the lower classes and undesirable races. This means that educational, welfare and law enforcement costs drop. So that's good for the budget. Money can be redirected from THOSE PEOPLE to more useful purposes. The additional benefit is to allow decent God fearing people a chance to get rid of their sinful urges via a religiously and socially sanctioned method. It's as if a group of demented and violent Norman Vincent Peale adherents came to power. There is still the underground Resistance led by Dwayne Bishop (Edwin Hodge). The Resistance is multifaceted. It tries to convince people not to participate in the Purge. It provides underground hospitals for all victims of violence, regardless of their guilt or innocence. And it carries out armed self-defense against government or mercenary forces attempting to purge undesirables. The Resistance, like most cinematic rebel forces in these sorts of movies, is a multi-racial force. The NFFA is apparently all Caucasian.
As the possibility of Roan winning the Presidency is something the NFFA simply can't tolerate it announces that this year federal government employees and workers will not be off limits in the Purge. So Charlie Roan is fair game. Rather than hide out in a secure spot Roan wants to prove her common woman bona fides by staying in her home during Purge Night. This decision drives her arrogant no-nonsense security chief Barnes (Frank Grillo) crazy but Roan doesn't mind as she might have a thing for Barnes. She enjoys his company. More importantly, she feels safe when he's around. Meanwhile store owner Joe Dickson (Williamson) fresh from insightful classy discussions about whether his customers care more about [sex] or waffles, learns that his insurance costs have been raised astronomically just before Purge Night. Even if he could afford the higher price, it's too late for him to get the payment to his insurance company. Dickson has reason to worry about Purge Night as some female street hoodlums have already made some not so veiled threats about their plans for his store and him later that evening. Being a stubborn sort Dickson decides to stay the night at his store to defend it. Coming along for the ride is his employee and unofficial foster son, Marcos (Joe Soria). Dickson's friend Laney (Betty Gabriel) is a reformed gang member with a scary rep who now works on Purge Night to save lives rather than take them. But all the same don't mess with her friends. Old habits can die hard. Obviously all of these people are thrown together by the events of Purge Night. They must fight for their lives and decide what sort of society they want to live in. As you might expect there's a strong self-sacrificial element which runs throughout the movie which didn't really make a lot of sense to me. You might feel otherwise. Certainly one of the points the film was trying to make is that there's a tension between trying to do what you see as the right thing and in trying to survive. Sometimes you have to get a little dirty. Unfortunately I thought this film gloried in the muck a bit too much. But YMMV.