In the world of spies and espionage, sometimes it’s hard to know if you’re the hunter or the prey and who’s spying on who. At least, that’s how it always goes in spy movies.
This one stars Noomi Rapace as Alice Racine, a CIA operative whose job is to “unlock” people, that is, get vital information and secrets out of them. Since a job she was assigned went wrong in Paris and innocent people were killed in a terrorist attack, she feels responsible and has taken on less risky work in London, but she is called back to the line of duty when she’s the only one who can help get important passwords from a suspected terrorist.
However, it all starts to unravel when she realises that the people she’s working for are not who she thought. Is there a leak in the CIA? Can she stop the terrorists from leaking a chemical weapon in time? And who are the real enemies here? Caught between her contacts in the CIA and MI6, with her own former team trying to bring her in, she races through London, dodging bullets and following leads that suggest that the corruption might go all the way to the top.
I suppose it’s standard that you can’t trust anyone in these types of films, and it’s a theme that for some reason never really gets old. I love the guessing game of who the hero can really trust and who’s a double agent. But on the whole, this film lacks excitement. Perhaps there have been so many big budget action thrillers, like Jack Reacher, the Bourne films or recent James Bond outings that the smaller films need to depend on strong character development to really stand out. And that might be the issue here. It’s not that there aren’t great performances in this film, and the plotting is quite fun, with it’s various twists and obligatory plot holes that you probably won’t notice til you’re on your way home from the theatre, but it always seems to be fun rather than truly thrilling.
Take a scene in a lift for example. Our heroine enters in the clutches of a bad guy. In the lift already is an East London thug with two Rottweilers. Alice slips off the muzzle of one discretely and then causes a fight… at which point it cuts to the outside of the lift. Where the film could have done something as original as the scene with a hammer in Oldboy, it didn’t. There is also no real car chase in this film, which sounds like a good thing, avoiding a cliché, but think about it, where is the tension going to come from without some set pieces?
Rapace is joined by quite a few stars in this film, notably Michael Douglas as her London handler and mentor, who has a fatherly influence on her. And John Malkovich as the head of the CIA operation in the US, with his characteristic coldness always suitable to such a role. Toni Colette as a senior MI6 agent who decides to believe Alice Racine and helps her, is perhaps more interesting than these two, because she’s given more to do, but these three have all played this role before in other films, more than once. They work, but they’re not exactly original.
That leaves Orlando Bloom, more well known as a romantic lead, who gets his face on the poster and to show that he’s more than a pretty face. He’s actually quite a stand out in this film qs a thief who Alice surprises breaking into a safe house, and who quickly joins her team, though winning her trust is hard. His natural likeability lends him to the role, and he feels natural as a down on his luck ex-soldier who just wants to help, and yet he shows more range here than just a sidekick. Hopefully this is a sign that Bloom is going to do a McConnaughy and have a brilliant second half of his career, the seeds are there.
And of course, it’s really lovely to have a strong female lead to this film, especially with Rapace at the helm, with her ability to be both steely and compassionate, someone who you believe would be excellent with a gun and also care about the innocent lives that are resting in her hands. Alice is no ones fool, she’s good at what she does, and she’s also something more than that: she’s still human. Not an ice cold killing machine. She’s the beating heart of this film, and the element that pulls it all together and keeps it interesting, even if the film doesn’t reach the heights of other thrillers.
With all it’s twists and turns, this film feels rather PC and tame, in the end. It’s fun, there’s some action and intrigue, but there’s just not enough. It’s neither Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, with it’s focus on drama and people, nor is it Bourne, with it’s focus on character and spectacle. It’s all rather in the middle. Entertaining, in it’s way, but not game changing or original.
Unlocked is out 5th May!