Earlier this year Steven Seagal was filmed beating up some guys at a tournament in Russia (you can see the footage below). No surprises there, he is an action movie actor after all - clobbering people is his purpose (that, and having a pony-tail). In the clip, Seagal is seen demonstrating his prowess as a martial artist. He does this by despatching a couple of men in a swift, effortless manner. Interestingly, these men are in the mould of the traditional, unnamed flunky: determined yet inept. Exactly the type of anonymous henchmen Seagal pummels in his movies. What surprised me about the footage, however, is the sheer lethargy of it all. The video is noteworthy not for the violence, but for Seagal's demeanour. The black-clad star actually looks bored as bats his pretend-enemies away like bluebottles at a barbecue. There is something depressingly workmanlike about his performance - mechanical, even.
The display illustrates my general problem with Seagal. His particular brand of brawling has always been deeply unimpressive. Don't get me wrong, I am sure he is genuinely capable of bare-handed killing. There is something about his dead-eyed violence that seems authentic. His granite faced swagger suggests the kind of murderous confidence only brutal men possess. Seagal can fight - I get it. But does he have to fight in such a finicky, technical manner?
Seagal is highly trained in Aikido, a style of martial arts that - as far as I can tell - involves bending people's wrists back, and tripping them over. I accept this could be useful. For instance, when defending a lady against bar-thugs, it would be cool if you could make your opponents eat floor without breaking a sweat (followed by a laconic remark, of course). Folding back limbs, and crumpling foes are Seagal's areas of expertise. His skills are real - I am certain of it.
We do not watch action movies for their realism, however. The lure of the action movie, and martial arts movies in particular, comes from watching impressive savagery, not blunt realism. If it's reality we want, we need only stroll down the town centre on a Friday night and watch the local oafs battering each other over (often misheard) drunken slights.
Some have accused Seagal of faking the scene. I actually think it's genuine. If you were going to fake a fight, you would at least make it look exciting. As it was, there was a grim, detached look on Seagal's face as he worked his way through the hired toughs. Despite the bandanna and goatee, he gave the impression of a man doing a job he had lost all enthusiasm for. Which is understandable. As he put it himself 'I've been doing martial arts all my life.' The man is now 63 - that's a lot of broken heads. In fact, if you put all the 'asses' Seagal has kicked end-to-end, the trail of bums would stretch to the moon and back. He knows what he's doing. The sniggerers and detractors have overlooked something else. Seagal is now an Old Master. And as we all know, the master - usually a curmudgeonly teacher - never exerts much energy when demonstrating his killing skills. Seagal has nothing to prove - who knows, perhaps he never did. How else do you explain the blues band?