dir Simon West
scr Duncan Falconer, Warren Davis
prd Matthew Jenkins, Guy Collins, Paul Levinson
with Dominic Cooper, Austin Stowell, Gemma Chan, Connie Nielsen, Tom Felton, Thomas Kretschmann, Jake Fairbrother, Derek Jacobi, Tyler Hoechlin, Lizzie Winkler, Rinat Khismatouline, Igal Naor
release UK 1.Sep.17
17/UK GFM 1h35
Shoot 'em up: Stowell and Cooper

chan nielsen felton
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Stratton Based on the first in ex-spy Duncan Falconer's series of books about the tough-guy black-ops agent, this film feels more like a low-budget TV series than a proper movie. This is largely due to a cliche-ridden script, tepid action and a cheesy musical score (by Nathaniel Mechaly). Veteran director Simon West tries to ramp things up, but the tone only rarely rises above second rate.

After a mission in the Persian Gulf goes wrong, SBS commando John Stratton (Cooper) returns to his boathouse in London only to find his girlfriend has dumped him. He turns to his neighbour-mentor Ross (Jacobi) for advice before facing the music about his mission with his MI6 boss Sumner (Nielsen) and his own team (Felton, Chan and Fairbrother). He also gets a new American partner, Hank (Stowell), as he continues investigating a presumed-dead Russian agent (Kretschmann) who is plotting a bio-weapon attack.

Frankly, this film makes the SBS feel more like the A-Team than Britain's elite special-ops force, a precursor to the Navy Seals. The plot lurches along at an awkward pace, never quite achieving the muscly action vibe the filmmakers are clearly aiming for. The film is shot in various glamorous locations, but never looks particularly slick. And the characters aren't well enough defined to raise them to the level of something like Homeland or the franchise Falconer clearly has his sights set on: James Bond.

Cooper does what he can with this brooding tough guy, although he's far too inarticulate to catch the imagination. Maintaining a stony face, Cooper's usual charisma is nowhere to be seen. So it's impossible to believe Stratton is the agency's "best and brightest". And the actors around him struggle as well, muted to the point of anonymity. Stowell at least gets a dopey hothead moment and a hint of a sense of humour. Nielsen has fun with her cut-glass accent. And Jacobi merrily chomps scenery as the salty storyteller.

The lack of energy in this film is rather inexplicable. There are plenty of sequences that could be exciting, but West settles for lukewarm. Revelations feel underwhelming (there's a mole!), chases are weakly staged, heroes seem oddly dimwitted and the baddies seem unable to hit anyone during the frequent shootouts. But it's the incessantly awful dialog that scuppers this movie for good. And the moral of the story seems to be that "even with everything that happened, it's not enough". Words for our times indeed.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 15.May.17

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© 2017 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall