Attrition is a term I’ve never heard before before watching this movie. It’s also an odd choice for a Steven Seagal movie which usually have three word titles. Titles that can often be prefixed with “Steven Seagal is” in the trailer. So I looked up the term and this is what it means:
The process of reducing something’s strength or effectiveness through sustained attack or pressure.
But since the title didn’t say anything to me, my expectations were pretty low before watching this movie. To be honest, it wasn’t just the title. Seagal’s output has been terrible for almost two decades now save for a few decent movies. I was just expecting yet another movie in which Seagal has a glorified cameo of which he spends 90% of the time sitting down. It turns out I was wrong.
Attrition starts off in the usual way in terms of quality. There’s an overhead shot of a war torn city which looks like a camera panning over a miniature model. It then cuts to a group of commando’s led by Axe (Seagal) trying to rescue a girl. The team comes too late as they find the girl dead. For Axe this is a life changing moment as he decides to become an acupuncturist doctor somewhere in Thailand. It’s never too late to reinvent yourself.
Axe is a bit of a local hero or as Spike Lee would call him: a white savior. Axe is better at Asian medicine and martial arts than all of the actual Asians in the movie. But it’s also the reason people come to him when a Thai girl with mythical powers goes missing. She’s been kidnapped by a ruthless crime lord named Qmom. He wants her because he’s been told she can lift his “sun curse”. Which is probably just a sun allergy I think.
The first thing that stands out in Attrition is how Seagal-centric the movie is. He’s basically in every frame in the first 15 minutes. The movie takes its time to set up his character and Seagal actually puts some effort in his line-readings. The opening credits quickly reveal why; Seagal is not only a producer on this movie, he also wrote the story. So he’s personally invested in the movie and it shows.
Attrition also Seagal’s best looking movie in a while. The usage of colors, especially red, gives the movie a unique feel. There are also inventive scenes and imagery not often found in a Seagal movie. Attrition contains several fantastical dream sequences and the disposal of a body in reverse. On the other hand some of the effects are rough, especially when it comes to CGI wounds and blood.
The script is also a typical Seagal production. Axe is almost a mythical character. He’s able to cure people without the use of modern medicine and a master at martial arts. As with all of his movies the bad guys never lay a finger on him, let alone make him bleed. Something which has been absent from his movies ever since he wrote and directed On Deadly Ground.
But the pacing of the movie is off as well. While the girl is kidnapped at the end of the first act it isn’t until 20 minutes before the end of the movie the team finally reunites and goes on a mission to save the girl. There are plenty of filler scenes in which Seagal has one of his classic fights. Something which has been absent from a lot of his recent output. Attrition also includes several other more agile martial artists. So there at least a couple of fights that include jump kicks and other more acrobatic stuff.
Much to my surprise Attrition is one of the best Seagal movies to have come out since Exit Wounds. Considering the output he’s been having that is still not saying much. But if you really have to pick a movie he made these last 10 years I suggest this one.