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A Man Apart (March 29/03)

A Man Apart was actually completed long before Vin Diesel became a huge star, yet it's finally receiving release now. Coincidence? Doubtful.

The film opens with a raid on a notorious drug kingpin known as Memo Lucero (Geno Silva), lead by DEA agents Sean Vetter (Diesel) and Demetrius Hicks (Larenz Tate). Though Vetter and Hicks have good reason to celebrate - they spent seven years gathering evidence and locating Lucero - the good times are short lived. Presumably as an act of revenge, Lucero orders a hit on Vetter - a hit that goes wrong, and winds up leaving Vetter's wife dead. After a short stay in the hospital (which leaves Vetter with a beard but his head remains curiously shaved), Vetter vows to even the score and starts going after the new drug lord on the scene - an ominous figure known only as "Diablo."

A Man Apart's been directed by F. Gary Gray, who helmed the above-average thriller The Negotiator. He's got a good eye for glossy style, and never bogs the film down with overamped action sequences. In fact, the film features a gun fight that harkens back to some of the classic action flicks of the 1980s; lots of people get killed (a few are even mowed down by moving cars), and there's actually a fair amount of blood and guts to be had. The temptation must have been there to throw in a lot of quick cuts and add a heavy metal soundtrack, but Gray keeps it simple. Aside from Diesel's charismatic lead performance, Gray's direction is the most effective aspect of A Man Apart. The pace is brisk and the story never becomes confusing, despite the dozens of characters.

But the script, written by first-timers Christian Gudegast and Paul T. Scheuring, is completely predictable and almost pedestrian in its approach to the characters. Even if the trailer hadn't seen fit to divulge the fact that Vetter's wife gets killed, the screenplay makes it all-too-obvious by having the couple seem ridiculously happy. Not since Simba and Mufasa playfully rolled around on the African plains has there been such a blatant example of poor foreshadowing (and in the case of The Lion King, it actually worked quite well - that, and it was a cartoon for crying out loud). But the script does allow for shades of gray amongst the characters, particularly Vetter. Despite the obligatory sequence featuring Vetter being stripped of his badge and gun by his captain, the character becomes somewhat mysterious in that we're never entirely sure what he's going to do next. After coming face to face with his wife's killer (in a manner that's absolutely laughable), he essentially beats him to death - but his faithful partner, Hicks, ensures that the killing is legal by shooting the man twice in the chest with another villain's gun. The behavior of the characters is far more intriguing than anything the storyline has to offer.

Diesel's got screen presence to spare, and his performance here is just as involving as anything he's done before. But the real surprise is Timothy Olyphant as Jack Slayton, a sleazy and flashy Beverly Hills drug trafficker. Known primarily for playing nice guys that finish last, Olyphant seems to be having a great time in this role - and though it's a fairly small part, he leaves an indelible impression on the film. Along with Diesel, he's the real reason to see A Man Apart - which is, admittedly, slightly better than some of the other recent action/thrillers that have hit theaters.

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