I could write about how my mother died two years ago today. I could explain how shit it is and how it doesn’t get any easier. But instead I’ve decided to write about Steven Seagal and why I love his films so much.
Now I like a good film. I like nothing more than a complex, multi-plot yarn that keeps you guessing up until the end. I like to have to think about what’s going on, try to guess the outcome. Or in films like Mulholland Drive – try and figure out just what the hell is going on. I appreciate intelligent film-making, cunning and sharp dialog, good acting and original directing. Oh, how I love films. But as I just said, I still love Steven Seagal films. Why?
For those of you (surely there can’t be many) who’ve never seen a Steven Seagal film, I’ll describe the storyline to the one that really made him famous – Under Siege. In this film he’s a cook on a US Navy battleship. It’s the captain’s birthday party and spirits are high. Entertainment has been flown aboard in the form of a band, caterers and a stripper. But all is not as it seems. The entertainment turn out to be a highly trained bunch of ex-CIA bad guys and they take control of the ship, kill the captain and imprison the crew. They want to steal the nukes on board. Seagal’s character (who has been locked up in the walk-in fridge in the galley by the XO who turns out to be a bad guy too) just happens to be an ex-Navy SEAL who manages to kill the bad guys, free the crew and rescues the day (oh, and also rescues the stripper). It’s an entertaining film with a good bit of violence, a little bit of character development (we’re back to the stripper again I’m afraid), and a whole lot more violence.
Now you’ve probably seen a hundred action films with similar plots but Seagal does things in a unique and – if I may say – audaciously cheesy way. First, he inevitably plays an ex-Special Forces guy who’s in a tame environment. Say, he’s on a train with his niece, or he’s an oil worker who used to be in the CIA, or he’s an ex-FBI agent (probably the counter-terrorist team) who is tracking down toxic waste dumping, or he’s a super-tough plays-by-his-own-rules cop combating crime. The list goes on. You get the picture. Less of a fish out of water – more of a tiger in the sea.
Next, he speaks through the entire film in a low, almost whispering voice. I suppose the intention is you think he’s really tough and tough guys don’t need to shout. Instead it makes him seem like he’s trying to appear like a tough guy who doesn’t need to shout – just not very well.
Then there’s always a scene when he’s in a bar, or a kitchen, or an oil pumping station where a room full of guys decided to engage in hand-to-hand combat with him. Big mistake. He beats them all up in such a mockingly superior way that it looks as though somebody’s pressing fast forward for Seagal but super slow-mo for the bad guys.
And then there’s my absolute favourite scene – the real reason I love Seagal’s movies. Picture this: Seagal’s making a bomb out of some items lying around (in true A-Team style) but while he’s doing this the scene cuts to the bad guys. They tend to be a bunch of mercenaries: crew cuts, square jaws and roll-neck sweaters. Anyway, they’ve just found out from their contact at Langley who Seagal’s character is. Then it cuts back to Seagal concentrating on his bomb. Then it cuts back to the bad guys and the leader will say something like: “Do you know who this guy is? He’s an ex-SEAL/Green Beret/CIA operator/Ninja/Special Forces Major/Instructor of Counter-Terrorism at Fort Bragg*”. The bad guys all look scared. There’s a quick cut back to Seagal doing some more bomb making. Back to the bad guys, one of whom says “Oh no, we’re all dead, that’s it, I’m out of here boss”, the boss then stabs him or cuts his throat and says ”Anybody else want to leave? Good”. But you can see that the boss is terrified too. Brilliant. And it must feed Seagal’s ego no end!
[* – Delete where applicable.]
Obviously, towards the end of the film there’s a knife fight with the bad guy boss (oh, forgot to mention that Seagal’s already dispatched with all the henchmen in a variety of violent ways). Seagal toys with the boss for a while before taking him out.
Then it’s cut to the final scene where he’s getting all the plaudits for his bravery, standing in the pose you see at the top of this article. Fantastic.
You see the thing is that all Steven Seagal films are the same. No, I mean exactly the same. You can watch them and each one of the scenes I’ve described above will come up. And that’s what I love about his films. They’re all ego trips for the man himself and the cheesiness he expertly manages to convey makes it all the more entertaining. They’re more formulaic than a book of advanced calculus. You can just sit down, disengage your brain and let Seagal do the talking.
And you know what? My mother liked Steven Seagal films too, much for the same reasons I do. And so should you.