Snipes Goes to War, Well Sort of
"The Art of War" really only has one big problem and that is the way it's been put together because if you take all the components, the story, the acting, the cast, the action and so on it all works. But when someone put it together it got messed up, it became harder to follow than need be almost as if someone didn't have enough faith in the storyline to keep it simple but intriguing. And as such the end result is a movie which has its good moments, it has Wesley Snipes giving us a secret agent in the "Mission: Impossible" mould and plenty of stunning action but it ends up being all about the action because the story becomes too hard to follow.
As a top operative for a UN covert squad, Neil Shaw (Wesley Snipes - Murder at 1600) is sent in to secure peace using what ever dirty tricks it needs to force politicians to do the right things. When an Ambassador for China is assassinated at a dinner to welcome in a new trade agreement Shaw finds himself being set up for the murder and forced to go on the run from both the FBI and the Triads whilst trying to clear his name with the help of Julia Fang (Marie Matiko) a translator.
Now for me "The Art of War" is a movie in the image of "Mission: Impossible" with a story which quickly settles down to covert agent Neil Shaw on the run trying to unravel who assassinated an ambassador and why so that he can clear his name. But even before we get to that we have more similarities from an opening which sees Shaw sneaking into a New Years eve bash using high tech gadgets to steal secrets from computers and kicking plenty of butt before escaping by jumping of a building with a parachute. And as the story progresses we get plenty more action, more gadgets, more bugs and quasi-intelligence and spying which is all entertaining but not exactly original.
The trouble is that "The Art of War" ends up being about all the action, all the little spy secrets and big moments because the storyline ends up messy and hard to follow. The irony is it's not that hard, Shaw is being set up for a fall, who by? well it doesn't take a genius to work that out, why? well someone has very strong political viewpoints. It's simple but it is so dressed up and hacked about that you end up not bothering to follow what is happening when it comes to who and just follow the action. The good news is that whilst "The Art of War" may have been messed up in the editing room it does have a great sense of energy which leaves you no time to consider how messy it is when watching it.
Now whilst the storyline ends up appearing more complex than it really is there are some nice moments of cleverness. A scene which sees Shaw chasing a killer down the same trail over the roof tops is a nice touch as are some of the gadgets which are used. But the nicest and cleverest scene is the final shootout and ending which gives "The Art of War" a nice ambiguity which you can interpret in different ways.
Now in fairness "The Art of War" does not test a single actor and it certainly does not test Wesley Snipes who as Neil Shaw basically has to deliver action whilst being strong and silent. So on one hand it is a waste of talent as Snipes can act but here he doesn't have to but he does deliver all the action perfectly and has that mix of being strong and silent but also a little cocky. Snipes works well with Marie Matiko who plays Julia who ends up helping him and whilst the humour of FBI Frank Capella seems a little out of place Maury Chaykin delivers it perfectly.
What this all boils down to is that "The Art of War" is not the most original of movies, it's not even that easy to follow but it is entertaining if all you want is an action packed thriller starring Wesley Snipes.