Friday, 8 December 2017

Movie Review: Kidnap (2017)



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The plot: An ordinary day at the park becomes a living nightmare when Karla (Halle Berry)’s son Frankie (Sage Correa) is snatched from the playground. With no-one else seeing what happened, and attempts to contact the police proving unfruitful, Karla takes it upon herself to get her child back by any means necessary. The chase is on.







Berry has to carry a lot of this film with just her performance, and quite honestly, she manages to do just that. Her flustered ramblings as she articulates what is going on and what she needs to do really helps sell the stress her character is going through, and the fact that she plays the role less like an action hero and more as a genuine mother helps it ring true. Lew Temple and Christopher Berry as two of the kidnappers work out fine, although they are rather interchangeable and I didn’t even realize that they were different people until looking up the film’s cast list for the rundown, but it’s Chris McGinn as Margo that stands out head and shoulders above them. In fact, she might even give Berry a run for her money. Given how plainly her character is written, her being to get across this level of command during the hostage situation and even a few quieter moments where she lets her emotions speak for themselves is quite astounding. Then again, she isn’t the only one here able to make something worthwhile out of not-so-good material.

This is an extremely taut thriller in its construction, rarely breaking from the main action so that everything we’re seeing is almost in real time. That direct connection to the action and sense of immediate threat makes for a rather gripping sit, as every action and decision feels like it has immediate results and so all of them have to be taken carefully. My long-established fickleness with action set pieces involving cars notwithstanding, director Luis Prieto and cinematographer Flavio Martinez Labiano give a lot of oomph to the extended chase sequences here. All the weaving in and out of traffic, that stab-in-the-heart realization when someone makes a sudden turn off the road; it’s incredibly visceral and it manages to carry the film through its very direct narrative structure. This is where Berry’s performance shows itself for the vital ingredient it is, as without this kind of charisma in the literal driver’s seat, these scenes could have fallen by the wayside. Thankfully, because Berry gets across that feeling of continual dread and kicking her fight-or-flight instincts into gear, these scenes work.

However, this is all to do with presentation. The visuals, the pacing, the acting; that’s the gloss coating the core of this film, which is the writing. And man, is this a film that pretty much requires you to ignore the text. Thrillers of this nature, ones about seemingly ordinary people needing to tap into some unknown inner strength to save a loved one, have a lot of inherent problems in their construction. For a start, in order for the vigilante angle to take hold, there needs to be a convenient reason why no one else, from civilian onlookers to the police, is able to help. Unfortunately, rather than write around this issue, the film just presents that issue without even addressing it. All through those long car chases, which feature much speeding and throwing of golf clubs, not once do we see any of the other drivers even acknowledge that something is going on. Unless madcap rampages on the highway are some kind of norm in the U.S., I highly doubt that any of this is real. Same goes for the inclusion of the police, which could have gone into far more compelling territory but just ends up hitting the brick wall of “there’s so many missing children, there’s no way that they will find them, I have to do this myself”. Given how Karla ends up calling the police numerous times during the course of the film, this attitude feels less like justification and more a showing of laziness on the part of the screenwriter.

And yet that isn’t even the biggest stretch in terms of dumb writing. Instead, that’s down to essentially everything Karla ends up doing in this barely-over-80-minute film. While starting off okay, even if the scene of her at her day job is hardly riveting, her lapses quickly start up right around the point that the film’s main action begins. Throughout the film, she keeps making these incredibly simple mistakes that, if the film wasn’t written so that she would end up surviving everything, would have resulted in her failing to find her son. I’ll give a specific example. When she first tracks down the kidnappers, Margo asks for Karla to unlock her car so she can get in and they can drive to the bank to give her some money in exchange for the child. Karla agrees, and as soon as they hit a tunnel, Margo tries to kill her. Watching this unfold in real time, I wasn’t at the edge of my seat as much as I was wildly shouting “What in the hell did you think was going to happen?” Karla’s erratic monologuing in the car is likely meant to impart that she herself is erratic and forcing herself to think clearly in the middle of a stressful situation, which might go on to explain away stuff like this. But that’s not the case. Instead, it just comes across like she is inordinately lucky, narrative magic that exists just to make sure the story keeps going. This ends up reaching an absolute nadir by the end, where it is revealed that Karla’s action in taking down only a few kidnappers resulted in *spoilers* the entire child abduction ring to be shut down with ensuing arrests. Wow. So much for giving her credit for not being an all-out action hero.

All in all, this is a very tense thriller that pretty much requires the audience not to think too much about the specifics. While the acting is very solid, the direction squeezes the thrills out of the situation and the pacing keeps things from getting too monotonous, Knate Gwaltney’s writing in this is really damn stupid. The characters are flat, with only the individual performances giving them a sense of life, the contrivances needed to keep the plot chugging along are rather obvious as such, and our main character only manages to survive all of this because the gods of plot convenience decreed that she must with how many basic errors she makes. I didn’t intend for this but this makes a weird double-feature with Little Evil: That film was a bit painful to watch unfold, but became more appealing as it sank in after the credits, whereas this film is engaging in the moment but loses its efficacy upon reflection. If you don’t mind zoning out a bit while watching something, I’d say check it out, but make no mistake: This is still a less-than-adequate production. It ranks lower than Blade Runner 2049, which I may have a number of issues with but it is undeniably a well-made film. The parts of that film that I like are there by design, whereas here, it feels like I have to be intentionally dishonest and block things out to enjoy it properly. However, even with the process required to do so, this still had me hooked. The Hitman’s Bodyguard, outside of its cast, wasn’t nearly as engaging as this.

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