Synopsis – A British Special Boat Service commando tracks down an international terrorist cell.
My Take – Spy films are always going to be an important staple of the action thriller genre, and why not, as evident from the recent outings of cultural action icons such as James Bond, Jason Bourne and to some extend Jack Ryan, which despite mixed reception, have been financial successes, proving that the audience is always hungry for more. Here, we are introduced to John Stratton, a member of the Special Boat Service aka SBS, the UK equivalent of the American Navy Seals, a lead character created by author Duncan Falconer, a former SBS member himself, for his series of novels – The Hostage (Stratton #1), The Hijack (Stratton #2), The Operative (Stratton #3), Undersea Prison (Stratton #4), Mercenary (Stratton #5), Traitor (Stratton #6), Pirate (Stratton #7), & Assassin (Stratton #8). Originally set to star Henry Cavill, the current big screen Superman, as the pragmatic commando, who ended up excited the film citing creative differences and claimed to have a different vision for the project. However, with the experimental Dominic Cooper filling in the role, and director Simon West (Con Air) backing this film, what could go wrong with this British thriller right? Well plenty!
With 1997’s Con Air, Simon West has a bona fide action classic under his belt yet it is a shame that his follow up films which include Tomb Raider and Jason Statham vehicles The Mechanic, The Expendables 2 and Wild Card were mostly middling, while the once prolific director has two more to come in 2017 – Salty (an action comedy with Antonio Banderas) and fantasy flick War Wolf, under his kitty, it does seem that he has been spreading himself too thin, at least in matters of quality of his films, & this film is quite the evidence in the film. Being an action thriller, you expect the film to contain high octane action sequences and score quite well on an entertainment level, however it is unfortunate to witness that despite all the right quotients in place, the film never rises above being just a very bland and formulaic adaption. Agreed, while some of this has to do with budget restraints but there also is no denying the fact that the story has far too little to offer, in terms of originality especially. The story follows John Stratton (Dominic Cooper), an SBS commander, who during a mission to hunt down a chemical weapon in the Middle East loses his longtime partner Marty (Tyler Hoechlin) due to bad intel. Distraught over the loss, Stratton uses the help of Aggy (Gemma Chan) his tech support to hunt down the man behind the ambush. However, when his boss Sumner (Connie Nielsen) informs him that the international terrorist they have been hunting all this time is none other Grigory Barovsky (Thomas Kretschman), a presumed dead Russian spy, who she once considered to be one of the most dangerous men alive, everyone is placed on high alert, & requests Stratton to place the safety of the country over his personal vendetta, mainly as the now back from the dead, Barovsky holds the British agency responsible for his exile and is threatening to set-off the chemical weapon with a dirty-bomb in the capital of London. Therefore, it’s up to Stratton and Marty’s replacement Hank (Austin Stowell) to find a way to stop him before everything goes to hell. Yup, that’s pretty much it! There’s a sub-plot involving Tom Felton‘s character Cummings, that fizzles out quickly and is quite little pointless. This is just boiler plate action movie fare, nothing more and a bit less. It looked good enough with decent actors, locations, and obviously with enough of a budget to pull off a home run of a film except there just wasn’t much in the way of a story. With an intriguing premise about a rogue Russian agent looking to disperse a biological agent over major cities via drone, the film’s plot does involve quite a relevant and realistic threat given the rise of drone technology in recent years. Naturally I was expecting an exciting Bond-esque action thriller, with a protagonist that really encapsulates the skill and professionalism one would expect from Britain’s own Special Boat Service, but instead, what you get in reality is a very poorly directed film, with a cast that doesn’t click and some atrocious action editing.
Plus, the film is a tad bit too simplistic with its story and twists, that never really come as a surprise. More than anything the film practically screams out that it just wants to be like the million other action movies out there yet the main problem that lies in the film is the lack of any true form of originality, making the film not just quite predictable but also somewhat tiresome. Things do get spiced up occasionally mainly due to some decent action, but the obvious budget constraints hold the film into turning into anything truly spectacular. The opening 15 minutes are relentlessly tense and set the tone of the film which is superbly mounted with some solid action sequences, involving gun fights, helicopters, swimming, infiltration, a truck chase and a beach rescue, also the end chase is done well, yet in comparison to what we usually see now days, the sequences felt quite underwhelming, and it never helps when a certain diabolical editing comes into play. Yup, like the appalling Taken 3, this film too contains some quick cut action sequences which prevents us from seeing what’s actually happening. Anyone looking forward to seeing lots of water-based action will be disappointed. Plus, like most action thrillers this film too spends little time on character developments and wastes no time in establishing their relationships or motivations. There are very few laughs to be had here and most of them come courtesy of Derek Jacobi’s character Ross, who does nothing but waste time reciting drunken limericks with his surrogate son. Predictably the film goes too slow in the middle and my attention started to wane when scene stealer Nielsen wasn’t on screen. The scenery of Italy and downtown England make up for a fresh view. It’s weird how this movie has plenty of great and well-known actors in it but all of them are either being typecast of miscast. Dominic Cooper is a fine actor but here you can really feel he was the last-minute replacement for Henry Cavill as the titular lead, he just lacks the physique and physical presence/ability you would expect from a highly trained SBS operative. Half the time he uses a weapon he seems to be trying to emulate Rambo, hip-firing at any opportunity. It’s quite obvious that he probably only had a few weeks of prep for the role at the most, and it really shows on screen. Connie Nielsen as the section chief/commander the unit attempts to affect a posh British accent but just can’t quite sell it. Tom Felton basically chews the scenery for every scene he is in, and Austin Stowell as Stratton’s replacement partner is so rash, impatient and gung-ho he definitely doesn’t come across as a highly-trained Navy Seal, more an-overly aggressive mall security guard & it doesn’t help that Stowell is quite annoying. Thomas Kretschmann as the main villain feels like a huge waste as well, again, a perfectly fine actor, who however is given very little to work with. Derek Jacobi, Gemma Chan & Tyler Hoechlin are also wasted. On the whole, ‘Stratton’ is a letdown due to its uninspired pedestrian script that offers nothing in terms of originality.
Directed – Simon West
Rated – PG
Run Time – 95 minutes