The dissimilitude between cinema and video games often centres around the active versus the passive, the way in which playing a video games makes us a participant in the narrative instead of an observer. Whilst this no doubt changes the way we perceive a story, one aspect that is not touched upon quite as much is the visual style of the video game, specifically the editing choices. In order to keep us immersed in an active world, gaming often requires zero cuts or edits during gameplay, resulting in an experience more akin to that of “reality” than cinema, whose visual language is often built on cuts and edits that give more control to the filmmaker. Conspicuous examples of films that eschew editing in favour of the long take range from Alfred Hitchcock’s 1948 film Rope to 2015’s Victoria (with much in between) but with Bushwick, the new action vehicle for fledgling movie-star Dave Bautista, the long take is utilised explicitly to create a video game experience and almost succeeds.
Opening with an overhead helicopter shot of the suburb of Bushwick, Brooklyn, which in hindsight acts almost like a gameplay map for the action to come, set to pumping, rhythmic faux-synth music, the influence of John Carpenter’s Escape From New York and Assault on Precinct 13 are clear to see. When the ethnically diverse suburb of Bushwick is invaded by large numbers of heavily armed gunmen, Lucy (Brittany Snow), back in her hometown to visit her grandma, is caught up in the crossfire. When her boyfriend is immediately killed, a series of close calls (the threat of capture, rape and death within five minutes of screen time), bring her together with Stupe (Dave Bautista), a janitor with a violent and mysterious past. The two decide to make their way through the newly anointed war zone in order to reach their respective families, setting in motion a tragic series of events.
The series of action-packed long takes, understandably seen as a gimmick rather than an honest stylistic choice in many films, works here not because it adds realism and immediacy (as it did in the disappointing Victoria) but because it strips it of any naturalism at all. The CGI trickery needed in order to sew some of the more vibrant cuts together may be transparent at times but Bushwick isn’t striving for some kind of self-imposed artistry, instead opting to create a frantic and dangerous location that feels exciting instead of oppressive, a world begging to be explored and, in a way, completed. The real-time nature of the plot allows for very little characterisation but, again, this lack of typical cinematic values only adds to the desperate and artificial nature of the film’s premise, so much in fact that when Stupe’s tortured past is revealed through a lengthy monologue, you can feel the film slow down enough for it to become a problem.
The hulking presence of Dave Bautista, fresh off the success of the Guardians franchise, guides the movie through its gameplay like narrative and showcases the actor’s strengths as well as his weaknesses. It should be commended that unlike The Rock, who also made the switch from the squared circle to the silver screen, Bautista isn’t choosing roles that hide his weaknesses in favour of sheer charisma and comedic timing but still has a way to go before he can carry a film in the way that Bushwick wants him to in its later stages. Still, watching him plow through soldiers with sheer brute force and strength of will is a sight to behold and, much like the film itself, there is an intensity about Bautista that keeps you engaged from beginning to end. A playable character in a video game brought to life.
One of the more interesting aspects of the film lies in its somewhat ham-fisted but somewhat sincere political ideology. When it is revealed that the soldiers are, in fact, from a group of conservative (primarily southern) American states wanting to stage a coup and choosing Bushwick as an entry point due to its “ethnic diversity”, the film takes on a different tone. Watching various minorities, from the group of shotgun wielding hasidic Jews to the matriarch-led gangbangers, fight back against an overtly right-wing militia is a sight to behold and almost convinces you to cheer them along. What Bushwick does right, it does very well, arguably elegantly, but there isn’t much to offer beyond its B-movie pastiche and commitment to action. For a more visceral experience however, you might just want to pick up that controller.
Bushwick was shown as part of Sundance London over the weekend of 1-4 June. It does not yet have a UK release date.