This awareness of cause and effect, of collateral damage and irreparable loss, is what separates drama from spectacle, Sophocles from the Colosseum. The classic action movie was an arena in which characters projected their moral force into the world through their actions and faced the often messy consequences. Now it's nearer to a literal arena, where the wreckage is quietly swept away between acts.

The cinema is, as the saying goes, a big church, with capacity for a number of vying denominations. It is not the proliferation of the bloody fools that we should regret — for allowing us to laugh at death is a vital function. The problem lies in the by-and-large failure of serious action filmmakers to act as counterbalancing tragedians, the absence of artists who, like Mann, consider the weight of each bullet. Our movies prove over and over that they can be "cool" — but can they can be something more? O, death, where is thy sting?

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