It’s a misnomer to label the climax of Arsenal an actual climax, as it would suggest that its slow-motion spectacle of bullets tearing through and blowing apart people’s heads is the ne plus ultra of all that is patently sick about the film. No, that (dis)honor belongs to two earlier scenes, also presented in slow motion, during which crime boss Eddie King (Nicolas Cage) exerts his violent might to the accompaniment of an American protest song on the soundtrack.
To begin to grasp the purpose of correlating the vile and comically attired crazy Eddie’s ostentatious displays of violence to songs about or inspired by African-American disenfranchisement, the scenes must be seen in the context of the history of violence that grips the lives of the down-and-out Lindel brothers, Mikey (Johnathon Schaech) and JP (Adrian Grenier). Late in the film, Eddie hilariously and conveniently breaks down the distinctions between him and the brothers: For all the imperfections Mikey and JD imprinted on one another since they were boys, they at least have “each other.”
In a film that abounds in soggy sentimentality for the way two white men from the rural South have been left behind by society, director Steven C. Miller’s appropriation of “Oh, Freedom” is at worst a sign of the times, a perversely insensitive spectacle of self-pity, and at best a muddled one: Eddie longs for a brother, but is he the type of man who would put a “brother” in the White House? No answers are forthcoming from Cage or the filmmakers, but at least the former is ingeniously face-saving enough to pause one of Eddie’s bullshit psychoanalyzing spiels to ruminate on the perfect recipe for a bloody Mary.