Synopsis – A CIA interrogator is lured into a ruse that puts London at risk of a biological attack.
My Take –It seems easy to make a spy film nowadays, take a Mission Impossible inspired storyline, and recreate some Jason Bourne inspired fight choreography, take a decent cast and add a little bit of humor, and the result will be something like this Michael Apted directed film. Yet, unlike the recently released Stratton starring Dominic Cooper, the film manages to be quite engaging, even though it’s never the quite edge-of-your-seat enthralling as it is expected to be. And hey it’s got Noomi Rapace in the lead! You can pretty much bet that if anything, you’re going to get something special from her. Many of the plot devices are familiar tropes, but some seem fresh, including a sequence involving a motorcycle and an early reversal of fortune. At one point you’re wondering who can be trusted and who can’t be & the film fits in perfectly with today’s news, as every few months there’s a terrorist attack by some extremist organization in Europe. Call it what you will – and reviews may well be stinging & devoid of anything really fresh, but the film is entertaining, even if not entirely in the ways the film-makers might have originally intended. The story follows Alice Racine (Noomi Rapace), a former CIA operative and a skilled interrogator, who lives under the shadow of a terrorist attack in Paris a few years earlier, one that she blames herself for allowing to happen. Sitting behind a desk now, undercover as a social worker, she continuously rejects offers to get back into the fold until her old mentor Eric Lasch (Michael Douglas) and MI5 Agent Knowles (Toni Collette) ask for help to interrogate a courier snagged on the way to deliver something to a man named David Mercer (Michael Epp), about a planned chemical attack from ISIS. However during the interrogation once she gets the required vital information, she realizes she is being set up by another organization with an entirely different agenda escapes just in time, putting her on the run, unable to know who to trust.
Framed as a rogue agent, & with Bob Hunter (John Malkovich), the CIA division chief joining in the hunt, Alice must race against the clock with the help of Jack Alcott (Orlando Bloom), a shifty ex-marine turned burglar & make sure London won’t suffer a chemical attack. The film has a great premise and under different circumstances could have been a smart thriller but the film is relentlessly pedestrian, overly-expositional and even as it tries hard to keep us fooled, rarely succeeds in doing so, still I say the film does earn brownies for making sure that the narration kept boredom to the minimum. By injecting a steady sense of fun, this slick but mindless action thriller both holds the attention and keeps the audience entertained, even when things get very silly indeed. And because of the tone, the starry actors get the chance to add quirky angles to their characters that remind us to avoid taking anything that happens too seriously. The terrorism plot may strain to be topical and relevant, but it’s the corny plotting and lively banter that keeps a smile on our faces. Veteran director Michael Apted keeps things moving so briskly that the audience never has much time to worry about the nonsensical details that are flung around in each conversation. The film is a riot of conspiracies, betrayals, code words, revelations and ticking time bombs, none of which make much sense, but it’s a lot of fun to watch a woman taking charge for once & Rapace makes a terrific action hero, tough and sympathetic while still maintaining a sense of mystery. I think my biggest appreciation of the plot is that it flips the stereotype on Muslims in this kind of film. They’re not the faceless terrorists hell-bent on destroying the unbeliever that have populated these kinds of films for the last fifteen years, or at least not all of them are; they’re just another group of people caught up in the middle. Once the heart pounding suspense develops a fourth way into the film, it continues as an uneasy and biting nagging but vital sensation for the audience member throughout the film. The smooth and spot on editing, the use of the ominous music track are wonderfully woven into this film enhancing the energy and urgency of each impending moment of each scene that explodes on the screen. Emotions are allowed to run wild both on and off the film while a trace of espionage rationality remains intact. The breakout of the hotel room, for instance, is smart and engaging in the best way a spy film can be. She man oeuvres herself round the interrogation room to get the best shots off, including shooting a guy in the head through a wall, aiming thanks to the reflection of a mirror through the gap in the door hinges. All right, the dual-wielding pistols shooting indiscriminately as cover let it down a bit, but even so, that action sequence was solid. Director Apted, who has been down the road before (the 1999 James Bond film The World Is Not Enough), has proved he can be very good at building tension and concealing a mystery.
Here though, despite a few good action moments, the film can’t offer anything more than a standard, by the numbers watch. Tonally, it swings from authentic to cartoonish, and while Alice remains a genuinely solid character, the remaining characters are far too silly, never making it easy to get behind. However, the script is not entirely satisfying dramatically. In addition to distracting political subtext, too many characters know too much about future events. The protagonist doesn’t seem to need to work very hard to uncover things. There are a lot of coincidences. The protagonist more often seems to be knocked about by events, rather than driving them. There are too many remorseless murderers willing to employ weapons of mass destruction for a price. At least three significant characters may have died, but we’re not entirely certain. While it starts out well, it really starts to fall apart come the second and third acts, when plot holes start getting ripped open and character stupidity starts to propel the plot forward. Our heroine, Alice, starts to make silly decisions with no basis in logic, like trusting an ex-marine burglar who just happens to be stealing her television at just the right time in her life that completely makes it not suspect at all. Not at all guys, not even remotely. When confronted with the big bad of the film (in a painfully predictable twist of identity), she decides to take the magazine out of her gun as she threatens him. I get it, she doesn’t want to harm him despite his massive betrayals, how unilaterally pissed off at him she is, and of course his planned act of mass terrorism, but she was only going to blow his kneecaps off at worst. Of course that allows her to be bested and taken off her guard, all in the name of dragging the confrontation out needlessly longer. On which note, why on Earth would you put a timer on a biological weapon that doesn’t even take effect for two days, and can be triggered from a safe distance?! Not to mention the “I can’t turn it off, the timer’s already ticking down” followed by Alice literally pressing the cancel button on the phone timer. And this is all without mentioning how she somehow manages to find everyone super quick and easy, and just appears to thwart the villainous plot just in time, every time. Calling these plot holes is being kind, as they’re gaping voids of story that make no logical sense at all. The only reason to really put the time into this film is for Noomi Rapace, who is the best thing going. Her recent work in director Tommy Wirkola‘s What Happened To Monday is a wonder and here again, the chameleon-like actress delivers another strong turn as a powerful woman, making her the most compelling thing about the film. The Swedish actress is perfect for this part as the female version of Jason Bourne. Michael Douglas gives his usual credible role as a former CIA boss though his acting doesn’t really standout. John Malkovich and Toni Collette offer up some delightful entertaining administrative badgering for some respite to the theatrically-induced elevated heart beat and respiration rate. Orlando Bloom didn’t really need to be in the film. He was an unnecessary side character meant to throw you off the truth but aside from that he doesn’t do much and doesn’t help the film. On the whole, ‘Unlocked’ is your typical whodunit spy thriller which is momentary entertaining but eventually quite forgettable.
Directed – Michael Apted
Rated – R
Run Time – 98 minutes