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At The Movies

 

 

Stratton ★★

Director: Simon West

Cast: Dominic Cooper, Tom Felton, Tyler Hoechlin, Gemma Chan, Connie Nielson

Stratton is director Simon West’s (‘Con Air’, ‘Expendables 2’) latest addition to his action film resume. The film is based on the Stratton book series by author Duncan Falconer and this one comes from the first instalment. West intends for Stratton to become the first film in a franchise based on the British character, akin to the James Bond series. After seeing the final result it’s hard for me to imagine there will be more than one.
The film follows the titular character John Stratton (Dominic Cooper) as he chases a rogue ex-KGB terrorist Grigory Barovsky (Thomas Kretschmann) responsible for the death of Stratton’s partner Marty (Tyler Hoechlin).
Stratton is a member of the SBS (Secret Boat Service) unit that is responsible for tackling maritime terrorism. The film begins with Stratton and his Navy Seal partner Marty infiltrating an Iranian bio-chemical factory. There is an intense scene as the two make their way through a submerged pipeline and manage to get through just in the nick of time as their oxygen runs out.

Upon inspection, they discover that all the scientists at the lab have been killed, and a deadly bio- chemical agent has been stolen. They are then ambushed and forced to flee by the man responsible for the theft, Barovsky, and his henchmen. In the ensuing chase only Stratton manages to get out alive.
As is the tradition in these type of scenarios, Stratton takes the death of his partner hard, and declares his own personal vendetta against Barovsky. He is joined by a new American partner Hank (Austin Stowell) and their tech support team. Barovsky’s plan in the meantime is to spread the bio-chemical weapon over European cities using commercial drones.
The rest of the film is a cat and mouse chase as Barovsky just manages to elude Stratton each time, until eventually the two have a showdown and Barovsky is killed in a massive explosion.
That’s all there is to really say about the plot. It’s nothing we haven’t seen dozens of times before and most cinema goers can probably fill in the blanks. It’s shoot-out scenes, in between chase scenes, with a bit of treachery thrown in for good measure.
There are two major problems with the film, and that’s the script and the characters. The script is fairly generic and predictable, but also, it’s tone does not fit the mood of the film. The script appears to have been more light-hearted, in the vein of the action films of the late 80s and 90s. And this makes sense, West is responsible for writing and directing the big budget ‘B’ classic ‘Con Air’ that he himself refers to as a comedy first. The look of the film and the actor performances that West goes for on the other hand are more akin to the ‘Bourne’ series of films. The film looks desaturated, with cold hues of blue being the predominant colour.
There’s plenty of shaky cam and rapid-fire cuts during the action scenes. But the intensity is undermined by some face palm inducing scenes such as when Barovsky manages to escape the entirety of the SBS unit (speed boats, helicopters and ATV’s et al.) on a tugboat on the Thames, in the centre of London as Strutton helplessly watches on, his canal route blocked off by a draw bridge. In another scene, seven SBS operatives jump out of a truck each armed with a rocket launcher to shoot down a commercial drone hovering a few feet above ground. Overkill would be an understatement.
The acting too is dead serious. Everyone is trying to be intense and grittily realistic. But when combined with the often ridiculous dialogue, the result ends up being unintentionally funny (as demonstrated by the frequently audible laughter during the screening).

To use the James Bond analogy, West is attempting to give the ‘Moonraker’ script the ‘Skyfall’ film treatment. It just doesn’t mesh well.
I can’t really say anything about Stratton as a character as there’s little development there. Most of what we find out about him comes from expository dialogue (lots of it) dished out by one character or another. Through the words of others, we find out that he is a ‘loose cannon’, ‘plays by his own rules’ and ‘doesn’t work well with others’ etc. etc. etc. The actors try to do what they can but unfortunately, they have little to work with. But if you’ve seen an action film in the last 20 years you’ll know what Stratton is like.
This film falls under the dreaded ‘generic’ category. Not good enough to be remembered as an action classic, and not bad enough to be of a ‘so bad it’s good’ variety. I suppose if you’re a fan of the book series you should check out the adaptation and see if it stacks up, but other than that I don’t feel comfortable advising people to spend their money on it.

 

 

The Limehouse Golem ★★★★

Director: Juan Carlos Medina

Cast: Bill Nighy, Douglas Booth, Olivia Cooke, Eddie Marsan, Daniel Mays, Sam Reid

The Limehouse Golem is a classic Victorian era gothic murder mystery with a twist. Director Juan Carlos Medina (this is his debut English language film) offers the viewer plenty of gore tied in with the traditional romance, sombre mood and themes of social disparity associated with the genre.
The story is told through flashbacks in the words of the recently widowed Lizzie Cree (Olivia Cooke). Lizzie has been arrested and imprisoned on suspicion of poisoning her late husband John Cree (Sam Reid). Lizzie’s past is filled with tragedy. She was raised by an abusive mother, who left her mentally scarred and unable to commit to a relationship. After the death of her mother she pursues a career in acting. This is something she is passionate about and lands her dream job when she is offered work by the local small theatre star Dan Leno (Douglas Booth). At first, she works as a backstage hand but after the death of one of the actors, she is given the opportunity to make her acting debut. She is an instant hit and her career takes off.
Throughout all this she is being courted by John Cree, a wannabe high society screenplay writer. So enamoured he is with Lizzie that he decides to write a play based on her, with the promise of making her the lead. Johns persistence pays off in the end as Lizzie agrees to become his wife. But as soon as she does, the romance and passion dissipates. John becomes possessive, paranoid and secretive. The screenplay he promised never materialises and Lizzie is forbidden from performing on stage ever again. Their marriage continues to deteriorate until one morning Lizzie discovers John dead in his bed.
At first police suspect suicide, but after some urging from the house’s maid (and John’s mistress) Lizzie is arrested on charges of murder.
While awaiting her trial she is being interviewed by Scotland Yard detective John Kildare (Bill Nighy) who strongly suspects John Cree of being the notorious serial killer dubbed The Limehouse Golem.
Kildare believes that the only thing Lizzie is guilty of is defending herself and he is now in a race against time to prove her innocents. Kildare typifies the Victorian era gentleman. He is educated, reserved, astute and possesses a dry sense of humour. After the latest gruesome Golem murder he is sprung with the job of finding the killer. Due to rumours of him being homosexual (or as his superior put it ‘not the marrying kind’) Kildare is picked notso much for his investigative prowess, as much as for the fact that he would make a convenient scapegoat if the case is unresolved. While the rumours of Kildare’s sexuality in the film remain just that, rumours, and are never addressed directly it does show how that alone was (and is) enough to affect a person’s standing and relevance in society.
Upon discovering detailed first-person accounts of the Golem murders in a diary that he believes belonged to the late John Cree, Kildare begins the task of eliminating all other possible suspects. Amongst others the suspect list includes the likes of Lizzie Cree’s old actor acquaintance Dan Leno and the grandfather of the proletariat himself, Karl Marx (Henry Goodman). Kildare crosses out the names off the list by making each suspect write down a passage from the Golem’s diary and then comparing the handwriting to the original. In the film, this is accompanied by a stylized and gory scene with the suspect playing out the role of the Golem (it was rather amusing to see Karl Marx decapitate a
prostitute).
As Kildare narrows down his suspect list to just one name, he is faced with a terrifying revelation. The Limehouse Golem is not going to make the list of classic horror any time soon but it is a nice change of pace from what is on offer today in the genre. The acting is really good, especially from Bill Nighy, and there is an element of suspense and mystery throughout the film that keeps it interesting and unpredictable. It helps that the film looks great and somewhat reminiscent of Tim Burton’s ‘Sleepy Hollow’ colour scheme wise. I did get a sense that the film was going for a classic Hammer Horror film look and feel. Overall, an enjoyable ‘B’ film.

 

 

 

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