Am I really about to cape (as the kids say these days) for a movie released nearly 20 years ago that is currently carrying a very high 11% on the ol’ Tomatometer? A bit. A Man Apart sees Sean Vetter (Vin Diesel) as a highly efficient DEA agent alongside his partner, Demetrius (Larenz Tate). Once mid-level street thugs who grew up together, the duo leverage their understanding of the criminal underworld into law enforcement success, particularly as the drug war gets more serious with most of the action on the California/Mexico border.
Recently, Sean has just pulled off his finest career moment, chasing down and arresting one of the cartel’s head honchos, “Memo” Lucero (Geno Silva). With Memo imprisoned, it’s a huge step in slowing the flow of drugs into the states. Unfortunately, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Memo’s imprisonment leads to cartel chaos, and a new leader, dubbed as “Diablo,” rises to the top. Their first action is putting a hit on Sean. The henchmen fail, but they manage to kill Sean’s wife, Stacy (Jacqueline Obradors). After awakening from a coma, Sean is a man on fire and wants nothing more than to exact violent retribution on anyone who had a part in his spouse’s demise, even if he’s got to start at the bottom to get to the top.
Let’s give three (and only three) reasons why A Man Apart is watchable, particularly for the ones who like a basic crime revenge feature:
3. SETUP: From a plot synopsis perspective, A Man Apart is simple and straightforward. A cop seeking revenge for his dead wife must fight up the cartel chain. Variants have been done before (Death Wish an easy comp), because they’re easy sells to an audience. Directed by F. Gary Gray, the movie begins well enough not just with a good raid, but he and co-writers Christian Gudegast (Den of Thieves, has some big fans in the five years since it’s been released) and Paul Scheuring (Prison Break) dropping us right into this world in media res.
Diesel sporadically lends his voice in a few areas—particularly at the beginning. It seems likely that at one point, Gray and his writing team were going for some sort of film noir. It’s a shame, because if they were allowed to go down that path more, it would have done wonders for the characterization and plot points. A Man Apart was delayed for a few years, marred by studio interference, reshoots, etc. There was something really good here, but what is left isn’t awful, just not as cohesive as you’d want out out of an A to B movie. The first hour has a steady progression with honest intrigue seeing Sean work his way up the ladder, and it’s really only until the last 30-40 minutes where the bottom (featuring an awful, awful ending “twist”) completely falls out.
2. ADEQUATE SET PIECES
The action in A Man Apart isn’t always filmed in the best of light, and a bit of it is way too spastic, but by and large, the movie features three sizable and effective set pieces. The one in the middle carries the most energy, as it sees Sean’s cover revealed (by his doing) before having to defend himself from a hail of bullets.
Seemingly inspired by Heat (what isn’t?), Tombstone, and a few other 90’s actioners, the scene is appropriately violent with a level of grit. It happens so fast, but when it’s over it’s a feeling of “Wow, was that actually intense? I think so!” Sadly, this is the real peak of the movie, and it feels like the point where the original vision for the movie ended as the rest of it feels disparate from what came before it.
- VIN DIESEL’S ACTING(?!)
No, do not expect Humphrey Bogart quality or anything from the man who tends to preach family in every film. Nevertheless (questionable goatee be damned) it’s kind of compelling to see Diesel at least trying and playing a character who hasn’t become a superhero. In A Man Apart, Diesel is more successful portraying the rage and vengeance versus the sadness and heartbreak, but you can see in various scenes someone who—under the right director, script, and away from the Dom Toretto/Xander Cage/Riddick roles—could realistically anchor a gritty crime feature. Diesel and his gravitas feels right for this type of genre, and I for one would love to have seen a version of this that did lean more into the previously mentioned noir.
Other smaller notables here include the once-hot Tate, the oft-villainous and almost always scene-stealing Timothy Olyphant, and Silva, best known as The Skull in Scarface. A more well-rounded screenplay probably lets these guys make a better imprint on the film. Alas, they do what they can.
Am I recommending A Man Apart? Partially, but only for genre fans. There are many, many better ones available. Still, if this one somehow never got a view, it’s functional in that old way before streaming existed when we all used to turn to USA/TNT/TBS and kill some time when we were bored on a Saturday afternoon.
A Man Apart is currently streaming on HBO Max (as of this writing).
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This one flew under my radar until now, Mark. Sounds like it is right in Vin’s wheelhouse. Might give this one a look.
It’s definitely one of those films maybe only best for a genre nut, Bruce, but it kind of caught me off guard. Wish Vin did more of these in his prime.