CLOSE (NETFLIX) (2019)
SYNOPSIS: When attackers target the heiress she's protecting, battle-hardened bodyguard Sam scrambles to save her client -- and teach her how to fight back.
‘Close’ was tailor-made for its leading lady Noomi Rapace, but ends up letting her and its audience down.
As she had displayed in the Swedish trilogy of ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ films, Rapace packs a potent combination of steely reserve and physical prowess, both of which she displays playing the counter-terrorism expert-turned-bodyguard Sam. Fresh off a tour in some unidentified Middle Eastern country protecting reporters in a war zone, Sam accepts a seemingly straightforward task of protecting a young heiress Zoe (Sophie Nelisse) for a week.
Not surprisingly, the job is hardly as simple as it first appears to be, given how Zoe finds herself the target of some armed men who infiltrate her high-tech safe house in the middle of the night. Both ladies find themselves on the lam in Casablanca, not only evading their pursuers but also trying to find out just who might want to kidnap Zoe or want her dead. Tangled in the web of conspiracy is a high-stakes deal that Zoe’s stepmother turned CEO has been competing with a rival mining company to close, which is suddenly thrown into jeopardy after Zoe becomes a wanted person in the country for killing a crooked policeman.
That said, you’ll probably be less interested about the identity of Zoe’s assassins/ kidnappers than in how both fight to stay alive. Yet director Vicky Jewson and her co-writer Rupert Whitaker seem to have gotten their priorities the other way round, spending an inordinate amount of time setting up a convoluted plot with different groups of shady individuals that may or may not be working with each other. These scenes unfortunately result in a film that is so deliberately paced to the point that it threatens to lose your attention.
Worse still, it turns out middling where it should matter. Rapace deserves credit for performing all of the action scenes by herself, but the choreography leaves much to be desired. The close combat fisticuffs aren’t intense enough, and the gunfights are uneventful at best and boring at worst. We get that the action is intended to be grounded and realistic, but even then, that hardly explains why we often see Rapace getting her ass kicked (rather than kicking others’ asses). That some commentators had compared her character to a female Jason Bourne is downright laughable, for she comes off unprepared and untrained to deal with the situations she finds herself in.
If Rapace’s physical talents are underserved by the lacklustre action choreography, so too are her dramatic abilities by the weak characterisation. Both to explain why she decides to risk her life to protect Zoe and to give her some form of backstory, the narrative inserts some references to a teenage daughter she refuses to acknowledge but is emotionally wracked by. Yet a couple of phone calls that she doesn’t answer and an unexpected reminder from her agent means that the subplot hardly registers, let alone deliver any sort of emotional impact.
Like we said at the start, ‘Close’ was built for Rapace, and it was for this reason that we were interested in it in the first place. Alas it is also because of that we come off underwhelmed and even disappointed, for this is hardly worthy of her time and effort, even as filler while we await news of her possible return to the ‘Prometheus’ series. Put it simply, we’d really like to have seen Rapace kick ass, and do so via a truly emotionally repressed/ conflicted character. Both are in short shrift here, so you’d probably do better re-watching ‘Prometheus’ or the original Swedish ‘Dragon Tattoo’ movies than this ponderous and unsatisfying action thriller.
Review by Gabriel Chong