Movie Review: The Specialist
Rating: R (strong violence, language, sexuality)
Length: 110 minutes
Release Date: October 7, 1994
Directed by: Luis Llosa
Stars: 2 out of 5
In 1994, moviegoers had several bomb-centric films to choose from, including "Speed" and "Blown Away." As a movie that also centered on a bomber, "The Specialist" had to differentiate itself from the others. The filmmakers accomplished this by casting Sharon Stone as the female lead and having some of the most entertaining villains around in James Woods and Rod Steiger.
The film begins in 1984, when Ray Quick (Sylvester Stallone) and Ned Trent (Woods) are about to set off a series of explosives in Colombia as a part of a CIA mission. Ray spots an innocent child in one of the vehicles they are about to blow up, causing his conscience to kick in. He goes to undo the explosives, but Trent stops him and lets the child die. Ray immediately rats him out to the head honchos at the CIA, which gets Trent fired. In a cruel twist, Ray is also let go from his job, leaving him with lethal skills that are a bit harder to use in the civilian job market.
Ten years later, Ray is living a quiet life in Florida, trying to erase the memories of what happened in Colombia. He still occasionally does bombing jobs, but only if he can avoid killing innocent bystanders like the child in the car. He is contacted by May Munroe (Sharon Stone), who wants to kill drug cartel leader Joe Leon (Steiger) because he was responsible for the death of her parents. At first, Ray won't take the job, so a desperate May switches to her backup plan, which involves her dating Leon so that she can infiltrate his inner circle and eliminate them. Ray knows from experience that she is completely outclassed and is going to get herself killed, so he reluctantly takes the job.
It just so happens that Leon's lead security guy is Trent, who recognizes Ray's signature style when he unleashes a bomb at one of Leon's brothels. Still angry at Ray for getting him fired, Trent decides to embrace his bloodlust and asks Leon to let him find and kill Ray. Since he has potentially lost millions in the brothel bombing, Leon is more than happy to unleash a raging Trent on Ray, who must now finish the job, save May from harm, and find a way to keep himself alive at the same time.
The concept of a bomber or killer for hire with a conscience is not a new one, but that doesn't make it any easier to sell. Most people who kill for money don't have much of a conscience or manage to compartmentalize it when they work. Ray has a creed that he lives by when he works, which is that he won't kill an innocent bystander. Stallone sells the concept and in the process makes Ray someone the audience will want to root for even though he is a killer. His rule about only bombing bad guys for the greater good is actually believable, mostly due to Stallone's solid performance.
When "The Specialist" was released, Stone was at the height of her career, having just become famous for her role in "Basic Instinct." She made a concerted effort to stretch herself as an actress after that film, which is part of the reason she took this role. It allowed her to still be beautiful and powerful but also to get into a different genre. Women in these types of films are often relegated to supporting roles in which they rarely get in on the action, but that is not the case in "The Specialist." Stone is allowed to show her talent for physical acting while still giving off the sex appeal that audiences had come to expect from her.
Although the acting is solid across the board, Woods pretty much steals the show as the unhinged villain Trent. Woods has a penchant for playing nefarious types. Despite a long career full of playing bad guys, Woods manages to outdo himself in "The Specialist," playing Trent as delightfully evil. The obvious hero of the film is Stallone, who is supposed to be the one the audience roots for. However, those who appreciate a fun villain may find themselves wanting to occasionally root for Trent, which speaks volumes about how good Woods is here. His performance alone is worth the price of owning a copy of the film; the engaging story and all-star cast are simply the cherry on top of the cake.