The Gunman


Viewed – 26 March 2015  Cinema

Sean Penn isn’t the first person that comes to mind when you’re talking action movies … he’s more your method actor thesp with a few decent performances under his belt.  However with not a great deal to choose from at the cinema recently, this movie from the director of Taken (is that a trusted recommendation these days?) made for an intriguing prospect.

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Penn plays a special forces operative in the Congo on a top secret mission where he is involved in the assassination of a politician.  He subsequently goes into hiding following the hit and has to turn his back on his sultry girlfriend (Jasmine Trinca) and his best bud (Jarvier Bardem).  Eight year’s pass and he’s working as an aid worker in a  village when a hit squad recognise him and attempt to kill him.  Scared and worried who might have been talking, Penn goes about tracking down his former colleagues in search of answers.

Penn is on fine form and handles some slick, violent action with ease – this is certainly a side we don’t normally see from him and like his predecessor Liam Neeson he acquits himself with honours.  This surprises and shocks in equal measure with some brutal violence and an intense, nerve-wracking tone.  A clever brain-injury plot device aside, It lacks the emotional wallop of Taken and Penn doesn’t quite have Neeson’s charisma, but buffed up and breaking skulls a plenty, he still does a decent job.  Supporting cast especially Bardem as the grinning, shifty friend and a weary-looking but enjoyable Ray Winston add flavour and we even get Idris Elba as a shadowy Interpol agent.

It’s not about to spawn a franchise like Taken (thankfully) and probably won’t become a classic due to a sometimes confusing plot, but for fans of gritty, bone-crunching thrillers that don’t let up – this one is worth your time.

Verdict:  4 /5

Non-Stop


Viewed – 05 July 2014 Pay-per-view

Liam Neeson has become quite the go-to guy for action thriller’s of late, following his superb turn in ‘Taken’.  We won’t mention the sequel… So I generally find sitting down to his latest hard-as-nails agent in a difficult situation thriller an easy prospect.  He plays a U.S. Air Marshall boarding a plane as the hired security.  All seems well until he receives a text from a fellow passenger saying someone on the plane will be killed every twenty minutes, unless $150 million is transferred into an account.

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A good concept and a claustrophobic setting make for a very interesting twist on the usual terrorist plot-device.  Neeson is great as always, and the fact the terrorist makes Neeson look like he’s the guy hi-jacking the plane adds bags of tension.  Along the way various suspects turn up for who the texter may be and you’ll surely have your theories, which makes for fun guess-who shenanigans as Neeson tries every trick in the book to unmasks his tormentor.  Julianne Moore plays a passenger Neeson befriends but adds little considering her name, and much of the supporting cast, the pilot, various passengers etc just make up the numbers.  So have no doubt this is Neeson’s gig all the way.

Towards the end the final unmasking felt a little ‘er.. what?’ with the motives somewhat confusing, but throughout there was enough tension and red herrings thrown about to keep this viewer gripped.  Neeson may still be trying to reclaim the brilliance of Taken, and this still falls short, but overall I came away suitably entertained.

Verdict:  3 /5

Taken 2


Viewed – 08 October 2012  Cinema

2008’s Taken was one of the best thrillers I had seen in years.  Liam Neeson completely nailed it as a hard-as-nails CIA agent out to rescue his daughter from a sex-slavery-ring in France.  It was tough, violent and very cool.  It turned Neeson overnight into an action hero.  So let’s not be too shocked that they’ve gone and knocked out a sequel.

Neeson reprises his role as tough CIA agent Bryan Mills who invites his estranged wife (but they’re on good terms these days) and  his daughter to Istanbul where he is going to work on a routine security job.  Only one problem: the men he killed in Taken, well their family, especially their mob boss father are out for revenge, and soon track Neeson down with the very intention of taking him and his family.  Of course, Neeson has other ideas.

This follow-up doesn’t lack thrills or exotic locales and has some decent action (a roof top chase, various gunfights, fist fights, a frantic car chase etc) but with a more family-friendly rating – the whole movie lacks that ‘bite’ the first one had in spades.  All the violence is toned down in such a way I almost felt I was watching a badly censored TV version, with some deaths ending up looking bizarre and unfinished without the expected ‘snap’ or splash of blood.  Thankfully Neeson is still good as Mills, calculated, efficient and can deliver even the stupidest lines with vigour (when a dog has a bone the last thing you want to do is take it from him).  Also this time around Maggie Grace has been given a much bigger role and equits herself well, even if she is still a bit annoying.  Famke Janssen, usually good in other movies (the X-Men trilogy) is wasted here like she was in the first film.  Also for villainous fodder, Rade Serbedzija (Snatch, Mission Impossible 3) does his usual Rusky gangster thing he’s been doing for years … yawn.

So this does have some good ideas and moments that work well (how Neeson gets his gun back after being kidnapped for example) but along with sloppy direction and a lacking script, with an approach that aims at the wrong audience – this obvious cash-cow sequel just does too many things wrong to make me recommend it.

Stick with the original.

Verdict:  2 /5

Unknown


Viewed – 21 May 2012  Blu-ray

With Liam Neeson enjoying a sort of resurgence in popularity following a spate of hit thrillers, pretty much anything starring the Irish-born actor is essential viewing of late.  Although at the time this garnered very mixed reviews and seemed to be wrongly marketed as a cheap cash-in to Taken … therefore, I have been quite hesitant to check this one out.

Neeson plays Dr Martin Harris, on route to a summit in Berlin with his beautiful wife Liz (January Jones – Mad Men, X-Men First Class), who is involved in a car accident, and on awakening from a coma four days later, discovers that someone has taken his identity, and not even his wife recognises him.  A great set up, that although causing strong deja-vu with this viewer (Frantic, anyone?), immediately grabbed my attention.  As expected Liam Neeson is very good as the confused Doctor, handling car chases, fist fights and a compelling situation with ease.  Supporting him is a perfectly angelic January Jones and also a street-wise Diane Kruger as the cab driver who comes to Neeson’s aid.

Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra (Orphan) with similar slick production values and European setting to Taken, this may lack the emotional intensity of that movie and much of the ‘cool’ but still offers a gripping 2 hours of entertainment that’s really hard not to enjoy.  The ending did sort of screw with my perceptions, leaving me a tad conflicted … and the villains are out of the shady government cookie cutter.  Yet if you’re after an above average thriller with intrigue, twists and quality action, if short on surprises … this will do the job nicely.

Verdict:  3.5 /5

The Grey


Viewed – 31 January 2012  Cinema

In recent years, Irish-born actor Liam Neeson has enjoyed a resurgence in mainstream popularity following the hit kidnap thriller Taken.  Now Neeson is the new poster boy of cool, and with this man vs the elements plane crash drama, he’s not pitted against terrorists, but that of nature itself.

As one member of an oil drilling team, Neeson must use his skills as a hunter to survive the harsh wasteland of the Alaskan wilderness, following a horrific plane crash.  As the group of men battle the raging blizzards and try not to freeze to death, they must also try to outwit a pack of wolves that begin to hunt them, and are soon picking the men off one by one.  What got to me about this movie was not the setting, nor the wolves, but the realistic emotion on display as the surviving men bond, open up about their families, and change over the course of their journey.   In many ways it touched me, which I wasn’t expecting.  Neeson of course is brilliant, lending real weight to the story; hung up on thoughts of his wife and the responsibility he finds thrust upon him.  Aiding him are several recognisable faces and the different characters are all well realised.  The wolf attack scenes are done well, even if some close-ups give away their animatronic counterparts, but this is barely noticeable.

Director Joe (The A Team??) Carnahan’s movie is expertly shot however, making the harsh Alaska setting quite beautiful at times, and there’s many clever camera tricks and subtle effects to enhance key moments, like the very real plane crash.  Smatterings of humour also work well to break up the tension, and along with a ballsy ending that will linger in your head (and heart) for a good while afterwards … this was powerful and surprising.  A must see.

Verdict:  5 /5