Dir: James DeMonaco
Cast: Frank Grillo, Carmen Ejogo, Zach Gilford, Kiele Sanchez, Zoe Soul, Jack Conley, and Michael K. Williams
Synopsis: Five strangers find themselves trying to survive the night during the most dangerous night of the year, The Purge.
*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*
When The Purge came out last year many people, myself included, thought the movie had a great premise but lacked the real execution that the movie needed. The Purge: Anarchy delivers the same premise but this time puts us outside a confined space and on the streets of Los Angeles. Does the setting change give us a better movie? Does it still make an underlying political commentary? More importantly, is it any good? Short answer, yes.
Although the movie is technically a sequel, it does have the feeling of being a different movie, expect with the return of one Edwin Hodge’s character in a very small role. Still set in the world where crime is legal for 12 hours we follow a new group and are placed outside in the gritty streets of Los Angeles. We get are introductions early on of all our characters. We have the mother daughter duo of waitress Eva (Ejogo) and Cali (Soul), married couple of the edge of divorce Shane (Gilford) and Liz (Sanchez) and our real main character Leo (Grillo).
Eva, Cali, Shane, and Liz are innocent civilians who get stuck on the street during The Purge, and Leo, although he’s on a mission of revenge, reluctantly decides to help the group. He agrees to take them to a safe location, but first they must survive the violent street gangs (including the ones that are featured heavily in the ads), random psychopaths, and heavily armed troops wandering outside and chasing them.
It can’t be said enough, the best part about the sequel and probably what makes it better is DeMonaco takes the action outside this time around. Although there is nothing wrong in a home invasion or close quarters movie, Anarchy has the advantage of going to multiple places making the tension and thriller aspects of the movie stronger. You genuinely feel afraid for these characters because danger can come out of everywhere. The other great thing, even though it is cliché is what DeMonaco does with silence in the movie. There are a few pop-up moments but they don’t feel cheesy or dumb, they are actually done in a manner that’s okay.
Again, The Purge had some commentary on social issues that are relevant and DeMonaco still retains the commentary but this time he’s content to play it as loud as the action sequences rather than try to skillfully weave it into the story. Anarchy introduces Carmelo (K. Williams), a militant rebel leader that wants an ending to the Purge by breaking one of its unwritten rules: Don’t prevent others from purging. He’s also one of the voices questioning the system rather than accepting the harsh reality. He tries to make people rise up. But of course that’s the cruel twist because there’s no way to stop the violence until the leaders are brought down through violence. By the way, in case you don’t know who rules and is most protected during the Purge, it’s the rich.
The cast is pretty great here. Ejogo and Soul serve as the audience surrogates with their characters have a humanizing effect on Leo. They deliver believable performances as a mother and daughter thrown into this dangerous situation. The film’s other pair of Gilford and Sanchez are less effective (even though they are married in real life), serving more as a young couple in danger, although they do have one standout moment. Even Michael K. Williams character, who is really more of a cameo, has ups and downs and Williams is usually reliable.
But the movie belongs to Frank Grillo. I don’t think I’ve talked much about Grillo in reviews and it’s a damn shame. Grillo is one of my favorite actors and one of the most underrated actors in Hollywood, so it is nice to see him getting more attention in movies like Warrior, The Grey, and most recently Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Anyway, Grillo looks the part and grounds the movie in a gritty reality. He could have been a one-note vigilante, but Grillo finds this interesting and nice balance of being an anti-hero. He could be another older actor ready to take over the action genre like Liam Nesson in Taken. But the other thing that got to me, and this will be very nerdy, is that Grillo’s presence in the movie really made me think he’d be a great Punisher. He’s got the charisma, the look and the talent.
All in all The Purge: Anarchy does a lot of things better than the first. It’s got some great action sequences and a pretty impressive cast. Blumhouse Pictures is known for doing small budgeted movies and I’m amazed at how they got away with in Anarchy. Instead of a heavy handed political commentary or complex moral questions – even though there are some – it chooses to go the route of bloodlust.
The Purge: Anarchy
4 out of 5