“So your life’s in the crapper. So your wife’s banging a used car salesman. It’s humiliating, I know. But goddamnit, Harry, take it like a man!”
There was a time in the early to mid 90s when the careers of James Cameroon and Arnold Schwarzenegger crossed at the perfect point for both of them. With Terminator 2, Arnie was without a doubt the biggest action star in the world. At that same time, Cameron was at the top of his game as a special effects innovator and amazing action storyteller. In just a few short years, Schwarzenegger would become a punch line as he tried to be a family comedy star, while James Cameroon disappeared further and further up his own ass, making faux-prestige syrup like Titanic, before being lost forever in his green screen monstrosity, Avatar. But after T2, and before their respective slides into shititude, they had one last kick ass collaboration in them, True Lies.
Breaking through the iced surface of a frozen lake, Harry Tasker quickly changes into a tuxedo before effortlessly infiltrating a swanky party. With Albert (Tom Arnold) watching on from a surveillance van, Harry is guided through the party via an earpiece, on the lookout for something (I don’t remember what). He meets high end art dealer Tia Carrere as Juno Skinner, and realises she might be a link to the big bad he’s chasing. Things go tits up, there are explosions, chases through snow via skis and snow mobiles, shoot outs and mayhem. Just a few hours later, Albert is dropping Harry off at his quaint, suburban home, where his quaint, suburban wife, Helen (Jamie Lee Curtis), and rebellious, suburban daughter, Dana (Eliza Dushku) think he’s a boring salesman.
Back home, Harry begins to suspect his wife is having an affair when he overhears her having a cryptic conversation that obviously excites her. Abusing his position as a spy, Harry forces Albert to help him follow Helen, listen in on her phone calls and generally violate her rights, until he’s lead to Simon (Bill Paxton). Another spy (or is he?), Simon is trying to use his exciting job as a way to seduce Helen. Soon, Harry’s spying on his wife, and spying on legit targets intertwine, and the entire Tasker family is in danger.
Here’s the thing with True Lies, Harry is supposed it be the hero, the guy the audience wants to win. But the lengths he goes to investigating his wife make him an out and out sociopath. He spies on her, he emotionally tortures her, he all but pshysically violates her, all under the guise of someone who is not her husband. Now, I guess we’re supposed to think it’s OK, because we know who he is, but it comes off as so creepy, controlling and manipulative.
Here’s the other thing with True Lies, but not a just True Lies. Why do so many great action directors think snow makes for an exciting action set piece? From James Bond in with The Living Daylights in 1987, to Christopher Nolan only a few wars ago with Inception, to dozens of other movies before and since that I know I’m forgetting, all snow chase scenes look exactly the same. There are only so many ways a director can film people careening downhill on skies or snowboards, shooting machine guns. I’m sure it was exciting the first time, but I’ve seen it so many over the years that they all mix together into one boring blizzard of bland.
This is Schwarzenegger and Cameron at their peaks and the result is possibly the last great movie either of them made. Harry Tasker’s creepiness aside, True Lies is big, dumb action at its biggest, dumbest and best. It also made me even more pissed off about the countless Avatar sequels in the works. Because every Avatar takes James Cameron one more movie away from his good old days, and makes a return to those good old day less and less likely.