Ax, The (Le Couperet)

dir: Costa Gavras
[img_assist|nid=1219|title=Professional downsizer extraordinaire|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=230]
Veteran Greek agitator/director Costa-Gavras directs a Spanish guy playing a French family guy who’s just trying to get by in the corporate world by killing people all over Europe. How European Union of him.

The downside of the whole EU thing is that with cross border barriers to work having faded, people now compete with a whole new bunch of equally qualified shmos across that once great continent. The other downside being that downsizing naturally follows the increased globalisation of the European labour market. And thus multiple killings ensue.

You may think I’m speaking metaphorically or ironically, but you’d be mistaken. You’d be even more mistaken than I was when I voluntarily chose to watch this flick. The murderous climb up the corporate ladder constructed entirely of corpses is literal in this case.

You see, when our main character, played by Jose Garcia, was made redundant from his job a while ago, he thought nothing of it. A generous severance package and being highly qualified let him think the world was his oyster just aching to be taken. But a year and a half of job hunting has humiliated him to such an extent that he cannot countenance any other course of action apart from murder.

You see, the corporate world compels its adherents and supplicants to do terrible things in order to survive and advance. The rungs on the ladder of success are made of the bones of one’s weaker rivals. The zeitgeist of competition, globalisation, downsizing, retrenchment and merciless human resource management dictates a course of behaviour that is inevitable. And men, whose egos are so closely linked to their jobs, are doubly vulnerable to this mentality and doubly passionate about fighting tooth and nail to survive.

Or some bullshit along those lines.

I don’t think we’re supposed to take it all completely seriously. Despite the pervading flatness throughout the way the flick unfolds, perhaps there’s meant to be a clearly satirical edge to this, mixed in with the pathos. One of our Hero’s potential victims is reduced, via redundancy, to working as a suit salesman, and the poignancy of his plight is meant to move us and the corporate killer to mercy. You see, his victims are in exactly the same position that he’s in because of the harsh new conditions of the globalised executive labour market and the regional economic integration inherent in the European Union’s charter.

Whether it’s corporate satire or not, the pacing and direction are intended to keep the story grounded in reality, and therefore it becomes a bit of a grind to sit through as the story plods from kill to kill.

There’s nothing wrong, really, with the acting, direction, lighting or catering in any of the scenes, it’s just that this ultimately plays as less of a satire of anything and more an endurance test of the viewer, daring you to watch the movie without giving in the temptation to fast forward to a more interesting bit.

Garcia himself has a bit of a transition from a nervous killer to a more self-assured killer, and handles himself with increasing aplomb, instead of getting progressively mad. We are shown no indications of his being a sociopath, or a deranged lunatic. Sure, he’s a serial killer, but he’s a committed, ambitious guy who’s just trying to do what’s right by his family by ensuring he gets the job he deserves and maintains the lifestyle they deserve.

Those bloody bourgeoisie: don’t you just want to kill them?

As a shorter film it might have been a bit more enjoyable. As it is, the flick becomes wearying before its long anticipated ending, and really lacks the wit and slyness it believes it possesses. This is American Psycho done in a European way, but with the humour and absurdity taken out: it’s just a flat slasher flick with an absence of gore or repercussion for the unrelatable main character and his harridan wife.

Sure, this is supposed to be the a representation of the logical progression of the corporate mentality taken to its extreme, with literal bloodshed arising from amidst the metaphors and euphemistic language of corporate culture, but I don’t buy it. I don’t buy it because the main character’s actions arise from his own selfishness, not from being forced into it by a cruel, harsh, anti-human corporate environment. I’ve read a few corporate satires in my time (Ambient, Market Forces, Jennifer Government, to name but a few), and The Ax doesn’t come close. It is based on a book by Donald Westlake that I haven’t read, and I hope it’s more entertaining than this flick is, because otherwise all those trees died in vain.

The ending is decent enough where two predators, two corporate achievers face off at a bar, recognising themselves in each other. You see, the struggle to get where one wants to be never ends; it’s only replaced with the struggle to maintain one’s position against suitably qualified and ruthless climbers once there. The hard-one victory is but temporary in the corporate world, because there’s always someone else who wants what you’ve got.

Amusing, but in that cold and unfunny way that doesn’t provoke the slightest of chuckles.

7 times I’m glad I’m not the ambitious type out of 10

“Food first. Then morals.” – Bertolt Brecht