Art & Culture

You have to admire Steven Soderbergh. Working with a speed and economy unmatched by any director other than Clint Eastwood, he knocks out his films at the rate of two or three a year, while his fellow directors struggle to manage one. And on this occasion he has produced an excellent thriller with an exceptional cast.

To all intents and purposes this could be the kind of straight to dvd action movie, which used to star Steven Seagal, Jean-Claude van Damme, and other acting lightweights, and is now monopolised by Jason Statham. The plot is so slim, it's barely visible. Special agent Mallory Kane does a job in Barcelona, is set up in Dublin, and goes on the run to clear her name and get her revenge. You may have noticed the female preposition. Mallory is a woman, and a tough one at that. Resourceful, smart, hard as nails, and not easily deterred. As I say, this is textbook seen-it-all-before stuff. But look further down the cast list, and you see Michael Fassbender, Michael Douglas, Ewan McGregor and Antonio Banderas, and you start to wonder what kind of film this is.

The answer is that it is a kind of abstract action movie, which has removed almost all surplus flesh and excess baggage and just given us the core material. There are fights, chases, more fights, more chases, and the occasional chunk of dialogue. No back story, no love interest, no cute kids, just the essence of what makes a film like this fun to watch; all filmed, edited and scored with a grace and elegance that is usually the prerogative of more serious films. It is almost pure genre. Stripped down, state of the art, no nonsense cinema at its purest. In fact the people who are least likely to enjoy it are those who like Jason Statham films. There's no crunching bone noises, no grimacing as blood spurts, and above all, none of that awful music. Because this film has the composer who worked with Soderbergh on the Oceans movies, Mr Ultra Cool himself, David Holmes. The music provides an unnerving counterpoint to the violence on screen, with no attempt to ramp up the testosterone. It's hip, it's compelling, and – another plus – it's short.

And Soderbergh's other coup is to have enlisted an unknown as the central character. Gina Carano is not a household name – not in Hollywood households anyway. She is not even really an actress. But she is a Mixed Martial Arts fighter, and a former American Gladiator. Which makes her a more plausible action heroine than pretty anyone else around, including you, Angelina Jolie. What's more, she has the wherewithal to manage the non-action sequences with the help of the excellent supporting cast, and some sympathetic editing and direction. She looks good, fights good, moves good, and is a credible and appealing female heroine, outthinking and outmuscling men on a regular basis.

At the risk of sounding pretentious, I would suggest that the whole film is a kind of action ballet, where everything is perfectly choreographed, and the moves.


Phil Raby

Front Row Films

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