Action cinema is one of the hardest genres to do, and to do well. To make a great action film, you don’t only need great actors; you also need a great technical team behind it. You require a director with a vision and an understanding of what action cinema is. Without technical proficiency, your action film might feel amateurish and probably fake. If your action scenes don’t have the proper weight in your action film, then you probably won’t be staying in people’s minds after the credits roll.
The System is a film directed by Dallas Jackson and stars Tyrese Gibson, Terrence Howard, Jeremy Piven, and Lil Yachty. The film is written by Dallas Jackson himself and tells the story of Terry Savage, an ex-military man who has fallen on hard times. Terry has fallen into a life of crime and has been caught by the police and put into prison. Now, he must fight in a clandestine fight club to gain his freedom and also save her daughter, who is slowly dying from a disease.
The System is very much one of those movies that are perfectly watchable, but you know that it isn’t exactly what they had in mind when they started shooting it. The film stars some very well-known actors, but sadly, the production values are quite cheap, and the movie never really manages to sell the prison setting in any shape or form. This is very sad because if they had managed to do so, the movie would have been very compelling if sometimes ridiculous prison movies and those are always fun.
The location they got to shoot the movie feels very small and doesn’t have the look of a high-security prison at all. Everything feels cramped, and the camera tries to mask the environment as much as it can, but it never does it successfully. You can feel that this was the location they got, and they had to make the best out of it. However, when the cafeteria is as small as a classroom, then any sort of immersion gets thrown out of the window.
The writing is also quite sloppy, the premise in itself feels very much ridiculous and even in his desperation, it feels very forced when the main character decides to go along with it. There are other elements that feel quite out of place, like the armor suits the prisoners used when fighting, and the many businesses certain characters have inside the prison. It is all very colorful, but at the same time, the movie tries to be real and gritty. Every time we descend into the fight arena, the entire sequence feels like it belongs to another movie.
The performances are fine, Gibson is a cool actor, and I like him very much. He is often only known for his comedy relief character in the Fast and Furious franchise, but he can also do serious work well enough. However, in this movie, he has only one expression and one tone, and it gets tiresome as the movie progresses. A dynamic character doesn’t mean that the character is not driven enough to achieve its goals. Here, Gibson’s character is so set on his goal that he becomes blind to being a compelling character.
Howard and Piven do a better job at creating memorable characters, but the script is very shallow, and thus, both their characters feel very much like cardboard cutouts. There is so much that could have been done with Howard’s character, but the final result is just an outline of potential. Piven goes full cartoon mode and does what he does best by playing a very despicable human being.
The cinematography feels very flat, and when it comes to shooting the action sequences, the camera chooses to go into shaky cam mode. Right now, in today’s cinematic environment, it is only used when the filmmakers need to mask the lack of abilities of their performers. The fight choreography leaves much to be desired, and every fight lacks intensity and emotion. The scenes are just a bunch of people punching each other, but there is nothing beyond that. Props to the stuntmen, who surely worked hard at getting punched throughout the movie.
In the end, The System ends up being a movie that can be watched, but it will probably disappoint a great part of its audience. There are so many better options out there if what you want is a great action movie. This is not one of them. The ending just serves to cement the movie as something that was not well done throughout, and it was made with only the objective of releasing it and making some money in mind. Go watch The Raid duology once again if you want to see a great action movie. You will not be disappointed.