June 5, 2022 (NYC)- White Elephant (2022) is a Heartfelt Send Off For Bruce Willis. After announcing earlier this year that Bruce Willis would be stepping away from acting, due to his Aphasia diagnosis, it is hard not the watch White Elephant with that in mind. However, White Elephant is much more than a swan song to this beloved action star, it is a very good action romp.
The film is the long delayed brain child of former stunt man, writer, and Director Jesse V. Johnson. The plot is simple-“When two cops witness an assassination attempt, a ruthless crime boss orders Gabriel Tancredi, an ex-Marine turned mob enforcer, to eliminate any and all threats.” However, like many Johnson films the plot is just the pretext for showcasing the rich characters and launching point for great action and violence.
Johnson has a penchant for broken characters with characteristics that make it hard not to look past their awful deeds, and be romanced by them in their quasi-redemption. This is true whether he is the writer and Director of his own material like Savage Dog, Accident Man, or the brilliant Debt Collector films; or whether he is Directing someone else’s story, like Nina Bergman in the masterful, Hell Hath No Fury. Michael Rooker has the distinction of filling these shoes in White Elephant as the nearly retired, mob enforcer faced with a dramatic choice to do what he was hired to do, or do what he believes is right. This is his best performance, by far. He is very memorable in this role.
Olga Kurylenko is equally broken as the subject of the mob’s pursuit, and she does a good job holding her own as the tough cop fighting to survive. While not a true buddy film, she is a good compliment to Rooker.
The supporting characters are well supported by a strong cast, many that afficionados of Johnson’s films might recognize. Vadhir Derbez is very watchable as the young upstart looking to make a name for himself in the mob world. I couldn’t help being reminded by Derbez’s character, of Ross McCall’s performance, as another Gabriel Tancredi in Johnson’s The Beautiful Ones, a very underrated film. John Malkovich has a small role as a mob lawyer, but not one second he is on the screen is wasted-this is Malkovich in top form.
As for Willis-you can not un-know what you know about his medical condition while making this film. I read a lot of speculation and commentary about his performance in light of it. As for me I will refer to a prior review of a “B” rated, straight to video performance by Willis; “When Bruce Willis is in the movie you almost always know what you are going to get, and even when the film is bad there is still Bruce Willis.” Nothing has changed my opinion in this good film about Willis’s performance.
The cinematography, action, and violence is at the level you can expect from a Jesse V. Johnson film. No modern filmmaker can do more with a modest film budget (reported at $15 million) than Johnson. His films are fun to watch and White Elephant is no exception. Violence, gun play, and bloodshed abound, and is well placed.
While I have been fortunate enough to interview Johnson twice, I am still amazed at how deep his appreciation and homage to good film runs. This film has homage to other great films, old and newer, classics, and even to Johnson’s prior films. Derbez’s character opines, late in the film, that it “is like a f@cking Western.” Yes, I would agree, White Elephant (2022) is a modern western, or, at least, a tribute to Westerns.
I love Johnson films. I recommend White Elephant.
The soundtrack to this one is unique and very gritty and enjoyable.
White Elephant premiered on AMC+ and is streaming on multiple VOD services.
-Review by Marc Zirogiannis