By BRUCE DENNILL
The Hitman’s Bodyguard / Directed by Patrick Hughes / 16LV
Atomic Blonde / Directed by David Leitch / 16LNSV
Sleepless / Directed by Baran Bo Adar / 16LV
Free State Of Jones / Directed by Gary Ross / 16PV
John Wick 2 / Directed by Chad Stahelski / 16V
Maverick loners make great protagonists because they’re inspiring simply for being different. Perhaps “inspiring” is the wrong word, particularly when the men and women taking point in this selection of films have no truck with blowing away (or strangling, or throwing off a high building) anyone who gets in their way. But they are, at the very least, masters of their own schedules, right?
Strictly speaking, The Hitman’s Bodyguard concerns two maverick loners, but they’re on opposite sides of the spectrum. Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds) is a bodyguard to the world’s most powerful people, tasked with stopping Darius Kincaid (Samuel L Jackson) a notorious hitman who several other people want dead. In a suitably subtle turn of events, Gary Oldman plays an Eastern European dictator who, Bond villain-like, has a world-destroying plot in the works. The combination of the two leading men’s charisma and their machine gun-fast repartee is the basis of the film’s appeal, but the style both Reynolds and Jackson are best known for – potty-mouthed and ultra-violent – starts to pall when it’s doubled up like this, making it entertaining, but not memorably so.
Charlize Theron is a more unexpected choice for this kind of role, even with the vast range evident in her CV. But in Atomic Blonde, she not only takes on a role as an English secret agent working in Berlin, but commits to it (as does her character) wholesale. In context, this means taking a beating on every level, which raises all the usual questions about whether the end justifies the means, particularly when the endless double-crossing involved in the storyline begins to feel as tiresome for the characters as it does for the viewer. Wrapped around some unnecessary posing and detail, however, are some intense, ferocious fight scenes in which Theron shows herself the physical equal of Matt Damon as Jason Bourne or any similar franchise hero.
Jamie Foxx is cool personified, and with Academy Award-winning chops to boot, so why he needs to star in a remake actioner like Sleepless between more meaty material is anyone’s guess. But he is an effective focal point for a film about a cop named Vincent Downs, who has enough shady dealings going on to make every aspect of his multi-faceted day-to-day job rather more tense than it otherwise needs to be. When his family becomes involved in one of the schemes he is part of, he becomes driven by more than just cash and a general dislike of bad (or worse, more accurately) guys, and finds himself involved in three high-octane threads in an over-written plot. The major saving grace of the piece is that its non-stop action nature doesn’t really give you time to mull over the plot holes…
Based on historical events, Free State Of Jones, like a less rousing Braveheart, underlines the importance of leadership and personal conviction in beginning a turning of the tide against established mores that, just because they are supported by law, are not necessarily right or helpful. Matthew McConaughey plays farmer Newt Knight, whose disillusionment with the Confederacy during the American Civil War lead him to lead an insurgence that resulted, for a time, in the establishment of the eponymous, unofficial rebel state. It’s another lesson in how humankind fails to learn from history, with many of the themes being recognisable in contemporary culture, and, it terms of its being a period drama, is beautifully made, with a strong performance from McConaughey. There are some wonderful films about the Civil War and, though not quite up there with the very best of them, Free State Of Jones is miles better than its box office performance would suggest.
John Wick 2 sees the titular character (played by Keanu Reeves) return with just as much uncorked anger to vent as in the first film, which was, plot-wise, as simple as you can get, built on well-choreographed violence rather than any sort of thoughtful narrative. It’s likely that a repeat of that formula would have worked as well, but the filmmakers decided to make this release a touch more complicated than just one well-trained mystery man against dozens of gangsters. To both spice things up and ensure a wider range of adversaries for the anti-hero, the script sees Wick, in order to honour an oath, getting mixed up with an international assassins’ guild (without the computer game clunkiness that description suggests). But otherwise it’s more of the same: Reeves beating endless queues of opponents senseless while being regularly pummelled himself.