An interesting trailer. Noted girl crush Blake Lively. The Sleigh Bells covering Lead Belly “In the Pines” aka “Where did you Sleep last night” with a modern pulsing beat. I admit I was hooked from shot one. I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to get from it.
Sure, it looks to be a pulse pounding action thriller like a Jason Bourne movie. Perhaps something like American Assassin a few years ago? Barbara Broccoli is a producer and the Broccoli estate *IS* the James Bond film franchise.
So what’s under the surface?
Begin as we often do with written by, screenplay, and executive produced by Mark Burnell. Burnell is taking his novels to the big screen in a way few authors actually do with direct script control making the movie *his*. The film is based on his own book series around our central character Stephanie Patrick (Lively). An truly ordinary woman on a path of self-destruction after her family is tragically killed in a plane crash. When Stephanie discovers that the crash was not an accident, she enters a dark, complex world to seek revenge on those responsible and find her own redemption. This is not a super woman, she has no special set of skills, nothing that makes her more than an above average college student consumed by her grief after the loss of her family. A line in the movie calls her a cliche, which to some extent she is. She’s so wholly been destroyed by her depression and guilt she’s at the bottom when the story begins. I am torn on this portrayal, but it’s only part of the movie. The rest is a spiral and its hard to tell if its up or down for her as she enters the world of espionage.
If anything, this is not Bourne, Bond, or even Atomic Blonde. This is La Femme Nikita without the glitz and glamour. It reminded me of both the original Nikita (1990) and Point of No Return (1993), watching as a true nobody gets deeper and deeper into a world she isn’t ready for by any stretch of the imagination. Some of the feel comes from director Reed Morano (The Handmaid’s Tale, I Think we’re alone now) and her knowledge of how to get intensity with both camera and actor. Morano has over 50 credits as a cinematogrpaher since 1999 and it shows with her choices to use natural(ish) lighting in more than few scenes, how to use her angles, and fish eyes to maximum effort through the movie, even as it slowly transitions to stable and clean as the movie progresses. It’s hard not to feel in the moment when the camera operator is in the passenger seat of a car during a chase sequence with constant pans and very clever cuts between driver, the road, and what chases the driver. Much like last nights Gretel & Hansel distortion is the name of the game and the game is played well here.
Blake Lively is absolutely amazing in this. I missed Gossip Girl with her, not my thing, but she came to my attention with Green Lantern and her strong desire to play Star Sapphire in the sequel that will never happen. Her first truly memorable turn was in the supernatural romance Age of Adeline (which I owe a review to), then The Shallows where she has to carry a movie alone. A Simple Favor was damn near perfection from her, and the contrasts in camera work and director are clear between the two. Some might say her performance is flat, but I would argue that as subdued and relying on more body language than dialogue. There is a lot going on there. I’d love to talk more about Jude Law or Sterling K Brown in this, but in a movie of spy vs spy….where they are the spies and the support for our star I wish to reveal nothing. They are fantastic actors and do their jobs and do it well.
I didn’t expect La Femme Nikita. I expected American Assassin. I am pleased in my disappointment. This is a well paced, well shot, well acted spy thriller with a fully developed lead character. While I am aware that there are more books in the series the movies doesn’t end on an obvious cliffhanger or stinger for a sequel. Bold move from the filmmakers and I support it. I can’t say there’s a deeper message to the movie, I can’t even say it’s not cliche in its own ways checking off tropes left and right as it does.
What I can say it was gritty in the right ways. This felt, for Hollywood, what a raw amateur with some training from a competent teacher might look like. There’s nuance and weight to it. Is it realistic? Of course not. That wouldn’t be entertaining. It is however entertaining and delivers on promises it didn’t know it made. It also delivered on good fight choreography in a way that you may not even notice at first, but there’s a oner hidden in the movie and I was pleased to realize it AFTER the fact.
So should I see it?
In the drought that is January for movies? Yes. If the genre you like is portrayed here – then yes. Even at full price. I think even the big screen helps with the camera work.
Would you see it again?
Yes. Yes I would.
Without a doubt.
So whats with the title?
It’s related to some in movie dialogue comparing your own pulse and breathing to parts of a band. It’s weird yes, but it works in context. It’s also the novel title so that’s a thing.