Director: Henry Alex Rubin
Cast: Jai Courtney, Nat Wolff, Finn Wittrock, Beau Knapp, Arturo Castro, Leighton Meester
Runtime: 1 hr 40 mins
Rating: M18 (Coarse Language)
Released By: Shaw Organisation
Opening Day: 3 March 2022
Synopsis: Cal (Jai Courtney), is a by-the-book police officer who makes ends meet as a reservist in Marine Corps along with his rowdy and inseparable group of childhood friends. When Cal’s younger, reckless half-brother Oyster (Nat Wolff) accidentally kills a guy in a barfight and tries to flee, Cal is torn between his family and his job.
Why this misguided film about brotherhood should receive a theatrical release two years after it was dropped day and date in cinemas and on streaming in the United States is baffling. Not only is it devoid of any critical merit, it also offers little gratification for the casual viewer, so consider that fair warning for anyone who might feel curious enough to wander into this deeply unfulfilling action thriller.
Otherwise known as ‘Brothers in Arms’, it is both a story about two brothers as it is one about a band of brothers. The former refers to Cal (Jai Courtney) and Oyster (Nat Wolff), a pair of half-brothers who are regularly at odds with each other due to the latter’s emotionally volatile nature, which has resulted in multiple run-ins with the law over the past couple of years, so much so that Oyster is just one charge away from prison. Should it be any surprise that Cal is a police officer, thus exacerbating the tension between brothers whenever the former suspects that the latter is up to no good?
The other brotherhood depicted here is that of Cal, Oyster and three other Marine reservists, who out of duty to nation at the height of the US-led war in 2005, have signed up to be shipped out to Iraq. These other ‘brothers’ are Jaeger (Finn Wittrock), Snowball (Arturo Castro) and Milk (Beau Knapp), whose loyalty to one another will not only be tested during a particularly traumatic tour that sees one of them lose a leg, but also when Cal decides to disregard his oath to uphold the law in order to break Oyster out of prison after being personally responsible for his arrest for manslaughter.
It isn’t hard to see why director Henry Alex-Rubin, who co-wrote the story with former U.S. Army officer Sean Mullin, decided to fuse the two expressions of brotherhood. On one hand, it would not be the first time that the physical and psychological impact of the Iraqi war was the subject of a film; on the other, it would be the perfect excuse to justify why a bunch of generally law-abiding individuals would do something so foolish and reckless, notwithstanding that it is to rescue a fellow brother from a depraved prison system he should not have to suffer in the hands of.
And yet, Rubin’s perfunctory storytelling ultimately dooms his method. Besides plenty of tough-talk, there is little else to convince us of the camaraderie that these men share, not even when they go from the streets of the small upstate New York town of Bridgewater to the danger-prone alleys of Iraq, where they are betrayed by no less than the Iraqi police. Nor for that matter are we persuaded by why the prison guards would take a dislike towards Oyster, so much so that they would purposely rough him up and plant evidence in his jail in order to send him to solitary. Without these, the final act just becomes a standard-issue prison break, which in itself strains credibility by how utterly lax the security detail of prison transport would be.
For these reasons and several more, ‘Semper Fi’ never becomes anything we can emotionally invest in. The performances here too rarely rise above the material, with Courtney, Wolff and Wittrock struggling to find ways to lend their respective characters pathos. But the fault here lies not with the actors but with the underdeveloped script, which tries to stick a war drama and a prison break thriller into one and ultimately fails at either. So in spite of its title, there is nothing to hold faith with this movie on, and little reason to care about its curious appearance on our screens two years after it was likewise ignored back where it was first released.
(Neither a compelling war drama or a convincing prison-break thriller, there is hardly anything in 'Semper Fi' that one can keep faith with)
Review by Gabriel Chong