Lead-footed and trigger happy, The Purge: Election Year
is fast, funny and incredibly loud.
There is absolutely no better time for The Purge: Election Year
to grace audiences and theaters. The film debuts Friday, day one of July Fourth Weekend, during perhaps the strangest election cycle in history.
As you may have figured out from the title or the trailers, we’ve got a topical film on our hands. Filming began way back in September, but writer-director James DeMonaco, auteur of all three Purge
films, forecasted the chaotic tone and energy of the election. The same cinematographer, composer, and producers return to deliver the same tone and energy of the first two in the third installment. The film has the same premise, set up, and execution as its predecessors, but there is no continuity between them, so don’t worry about binging on earlier Purges
before you buy that ticket.
Frank Grillo reprises his character from The Purge: Anarchy
, Sergeant Leo Barnes, the quick-witted gunslinger with a prickly 5’o’clock shadow. Other than Sgt. Barnes, the cast is entirely new.
Elizabeth Miller stars alongside Grillo as Senator Charlene 'Charlie' Roan, the trail blazing presidential nominee running against the fascist, Illuminati-like New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA) on an anti-Purge, pro-99-percenter platform. Together, they do what the heroes have done for all three films now: survive the purge, volley one-liners at one another and keep their humanity intact.
The film suffers from poor writing, dialogue, editing, and cinematography. (Gallons of ink could be spilled and paper wasted dissecting and analyzing the films execution, so let’s give the film its due and save some ink and paper for another time.)
Grillo and Miller’s performances carry the film, making sure the ship doesn’t sink, but the rest of the cast floundered. Just about every character is a quick-witted badass with a sordid past and an unbelievable amount of levity during the annual murder day. Grillo and Miller do not, however, carry the film en scene; that burden is carried by Joe “the Saint” Dixon, a small business owner.
Joe, portrayed by Mykelti Williamson (best known for his role as Private Benjamin Buford "Bubba" Blue in Forest Gump
), fired off joke after joke that that got ovation after ovation from the audience. Audiences will leave the theater reciting his lines, like they recited Bubba’s. The scene that establishes Joe as an audience favorite: when, sitting atop his store, he and his employee/sidekick crack open beers and shoot guns mid-purge.
Let’s go a bit deeper. (Stay with me here.) In Ancient Grecian drama, the meaning of catharsis was slightly different from how we use it today. Catharsis was the feeling of relief the audience felt from seeing a production. They, for example, watched a tragedy, learned a moral lesson from the hero’s
demise, and left the theater at ease and a little bit wiser. Same idea applies here, just a couple thousand years later—hence the name and theme threading the three films. Points to DeMarco for the uncharacteristically subtle move.
Also in the mode of yesterday’s works, The Purge: Election Year
is a moral story. Sen. Roan, with her anti-purge platform, does not condone murder as a means of survival even during the Purge. Sgt Barnes has to learn how to trust Sen Roan; Joe has to learn to trust his friends with his livelihood—the store; and Dante Bishop, a Robin Hood-like vigilante (portrayed by Edwin Hodge, the only actor to appear in all three films), has to learn that the ends don’t justify the means. Very deep.
All that being said, that’s not why we’re here. The Purge: Election Year
is not tasteful, expertly crafted film posturing for an Oscar or Golden Globe; it’s not trying to be. It is an incredibly entertaining two-hour roller coaster of jokes and violence, and that’s what we’re here for. This is why audiences have stayed with the trilogy. For three movies we’ve been asking ourselves, “There’s no way that could happen, but what if? What would I do?”
Moments that stood out for the right reasons: a white nationalist versus Crips battle scene, every one-liner Joe hurls, the righteous climax.
Moments that stood out for the wrong reasons: the NFFA is Catholic, which the founding fathers certainly were not; the last vote of the general election is in counted in May for some reason; the continuity of Hodge’s character(s); and much of the dialogue.