On Deadly Ground (1994)

Posted in Reviews by - July 29, 2013
On Deadly Ground (1994)

A studio sanctioned thought-piece from Steven Seagal (surely an oxymoron if ever there was one) which pushes his politics more than his muscle, producing a head-scratching environmentally-conscious takedown of Big Oil and their exploitation of indigenous communities and the environment. The message is about as subtle as one of Seagal’s trademark aikido chops, but nonetheless a remarkably bold statement for a huge studio like Warner Brothers to endorse, who openly throw their dollars behind the chef from Under Siege to work as director, producer, star and chief activist.

That’s one argument. Another would be this is confused sanctimonious twaddle, and questions should probably be raised as to whether Seagal is best fit to act as spokesperson for the environment’s cause. For starters, in championing the voice of polite political discourse and spiritual wisdom as a means of combating conglomerates, he somewhat undermines his own argument the second he starts breaking skulls and unleashing rounds from a 10 gauge shotgun. And surely strapping bombs to an established oil refinery (like during the final act) carries its own environmental concerns, not to mention a huge loss of innocent life?

As Forrest Taft, Seagal starts the film as a mystical damage control specialist for an oil corporation run like a mafia syndicate, who act as something of a metaphor for western white imperialism. They are run by Michael Caine playing a shouty, unpleasant, hypocritical tycoon who says lines like, “To hell with those goddamn Eskimos,” when the tribal council in Alaska oppose the opening of a new oil refinery.

But Taft has the best lines. In one scene, he sends a barroom bully into an existential tailspin when he asks, “What does it take to change the essence of a man?”, just before landing a few extra punches to his head for good measure. When workers uncover the company’s use of faulty technology as the cause of a recent spill, Caine goes into crisis mode and his cronies start bumping off the staff. This includes an attempt on Taft who narrowly escapes another explosion before being nursed back to health by Joan Chen and her native Inuit tribe of earthy spiritualists. Taft then undergoes a curious hallucinogenic montage where he imagines killing a bear – which is certainly strange –  but his enlightenment is quickly disregarded in favour of Rambo on horseback, as Seagal and Chen are pursued through the Alaskan wilderness by Caine’s hired goons. The film ends on a lecture featuring plankton stats.

As an action film there are moments of excitement but this far from Under Siege, and as a director Seagal seems more concerned about winning a Nobel Peace Prize than an Oscar. Which may explain why he hasn’t been allowed to direct a film since.

This post was written by
Editor and creator of Kung Fu Movie Guide and the host of the Kung Fu Movie Guide Podcast. I live behind a laptop in London, UK.

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