26 May 2009 - 12:35 PM  UPDATED 26 Feb 2014 - 4:07 PM

Gabriel is about a climatic battle between the forces of The Fallen (they're the baddies, and you can tell because they run brothels and sell drugs) and the last remaining Archangel of The Light – Gabriel (newcomer Andy Whitfield). The hero is a hero because he can heal people, has bright blue eyes and is basically a top bloke. He's fighting for the rights to the souls of the rather unimaginatively named Purgatory, a crappy city full of violence and pain. Purgatory is, of course, Sydney, but to its credit, Gabriel legitimately feels like it's been shot at least in another country, if not another planet entirely.

Most importantly, however, Gabriel isn't schlock. Given its rudimentary and rather unexplored central premise, and its reliance on visual elements like “bullet time” and its cast of virtual unknowns, it could easily have traipsed into the land of direct-to-DVD action flicks. Indeed, it comes close at times, but is actually far removed from that sort of rot, although director, producer and writer Shane Abbess and co-writer, producer Matt Hylton Todd have hardly constructed an intellectually stimulating reality. Rather, it's a watertight story arc with a written-in-stone philosophy underpinned by a beguiling lack of pretension. Gabriel may be derivative, but it never thinks that it's smarter than it is, with both cuteness and cleverness left firmly at the door.

The film's tone is fully indebted to Whitfield, whose cipher-hero is probably most comparable to Keanu Reeves' Neo from the Matrix trilogy: not only does this film share that one's penchant for visual chicanery over character investment, but it also shares a blank-faced and blank-minded everyman.

Ultimately, Gabriel is too long (at just shy of two hours), and becomes boorish in its action-packed third act. Whitfield devolves into an invincible killing machine (despite his previously well-elucidated mortality) who can dodge bullets, take a pole through the chest and keep fighting. Meanwhile, Stevenson – formerly a bad arse – becomes an annoying whiner before undergoing a less than credible twist (which is as obvious as it is unlikely). Still, there's a lot to recommend in Gabriel.