Sunday 21 June 2015

Survivor by Philip Shelby

Last week I wrote about Spooks: the Greater Good, an espionage thriller set in London. It's by no means a bad film, and at times highly effective. However, it so happened that as I continued my multiplex movie-going binge that day the next film in my sights was Survivor. 

I really didn't know anything about it (I told you it was a binge) except that it had a poster featuring Pierce Brosnan holding a gun with a silencer on it (suppressor, actually, but let's not get technical here). 

And that was good enough for me.

Well, it turned out that Survivor was also an espionage thriller set in London. And in retrospect Spooks began to look a lot less effective. In fact, Survivor blew it out of the water. In just about every possible way.

Perhaps most importantly, Survivor featured a protagonist I cared about deeply, whereas Spooks merely had a cannily cast star in the form of Kit Harrington, bringing with him residual audience sympathy from Game of Thrones. 

But Survivor is built around Mila Jovovich, a beautiful and affecting actress who has been wasted in the last decade or so in a fairly low-rent zombie franchise (Resident Evil... the sixth instalment, promisingly subtitled The Final Chapter, is in preproduction). Before that she was best known for her unforgettably skimpily costumed debut in The Fifth Element.

Jovovich is wonderful in Survivor as Kate Abbott, an ordinary woman caught up in murderous intrigue — a classic Hitchcock situation. She is soon plunged into a double chase — with both the bad guys and the cops after her — another classic Hitchcock situation. In fact, in Kate's case it is a triple chase, with the bad guys, the London cops and her own security service after her.

Kate works in the visa section at the US Embassy in London and the research which writer Philip Shelby has obviously conducted about embassy procedure is one of the great strengths of this movie. Shelby has done a terrific job, crafting an absolutely engrossing nail-biter of a thriller. As far as I can tell, this is his first script. It sure as hell won't be his last.

The film is directed by James McTeigue, who does a fine job of using the splendid London locations, beautifully shot by cinematographer Danny Ruhlmann (who previously worked with McTeigue on the Edgar Allan Poe movie The Raven). 

It is also features a very impressive Pierce Brosnan — almost unrecognisable with a distinguished head of grey hair — as an implacable and meticulous hitman.

Survivor begins strongly, never lets the viewer go, and develops into the most audacious tale of a planned atrocity since Thomas Harris's Black Sunday. Along the way it gets a little far fetched, though never remotely as far fetched as Spooks. It's a terrific movie which has made little impact at the box office and seems undeservedly destined for obscurity. Let's not let that happen.

(Images: all posters are from the reliable Imp Awards.)

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