DEA agent Sean Vetter (Vin Diesel) has finally captured a notorious Mexican drug lord, Meno Lucero (Geno Silva, "Scarface"), after seven years of work. After a celebratory time with his partner (Larenz Tate, "Menace II Society"), and beloved wife Stacy (Jacqueline Obradors, "Tortilla Soup"), Vetter discovers that a new group has taken over the cocaine trade, lead by the mysterious figurehead Diablo. Diablo's first act is to kill Vetter's wife as payback, leaving Vetter a shattered man, robbed of his reason for living. Embarking on a singular path of revenge, Sean distances himself from those around him as he heads down to Mexico to find Diablo and kill him.
If anything can be credited to director F. Gary Gray and the entire "A Man Apart" (IMDb listing) production team, it is this: They actually manage to pull a capable performance out of Vin Diesel. It's strange to consider such an idea, and even stranger to write that down for people to see. After dismissing almost every lousy film he's put out since his rocket-ride to fame ("The Fast And The Furious," "XXX"), I was shocked to find myself genuinely moved by Diesel's performance. Now, don't get me wrong, the man still has the enunciation of a taffy addict, the eloquence of the damned, and disgustingly often, the film favors his brawn over heartfelt sentiment. But there are moments in the film that set aside brute force, and reveal an open heart. "A Man Apart" plays to Diesel's strength, which is laser-focused intensity. But here the intensity is focused on a grieving widower, which hands Diesel great scenes of pain, which he plays wonderfully. When the film takes the grieving out, and places familiar machismo back into his hands, that's when the picture drags. It has the excitement of watching time tick by on a watch, which I did for long stretches of the movie.
It's regrettable that Diesel's best performance to date is stuck in a gratingly routine drug war actioner that purports to have the societal impact of "Traffic," with an emotional wallop unseen in this brand of mayhem. "A Man Apart" is a messy enterprise, helmed by Gray as if even he doesn't know exactly what genre he's going for. In the end, the characterizations are off (Vetter's captain proclaims he "loved Stacy like a daughter," yet their only scene together is awkward small talk), the gun-battles claustrophobic and poorly staged, and the film features a whopper of an ending that, in all honesty, doesn't make much sense with the rest of the story. Gray has rarely impressed as a director ("Friday, "The Negotiator," "Set it Off"), so his lack of control over "A Man Apart" isn't unexpected. He's gutted his film of all its meaning, and replaced it with needless macho posturings, and half-assed sentiment to legitimize it all.
Filmed more than two years ago, this will be the last time we see an emotionally naked Vin Diesel onscreen for a long time to come. He's become too big, too interwoven in his own celebrity to even think of challenging himself like this again. It's only a shame a misguided film like "A Man Apart" is the last picture we have to cling to for a reminder of Diesel's nominal talents.
Filmfodder Grade: D