Noomi Rapace Out-Toughs Mads Mikkelsen in the Battle of the Netflix Action Movies
Half a trailer gave me somewhat elevated expectations for Polar. Vanessa Hudgens frowns and eschews make-up. Mads Mikkelsen smokes, shoots people, and eschews shaving. The exterior shots are wintry and there’s at least one owl. The opening scene gunned my hopes down. A coked-up, Versace-draped Johnny Knoxville gets fellated by a honey pot before being taken out by a hit squad dressed like extras from a Pitbull video. Oh, shit. This is for people who loved Smokin’ Aces.
Director Jonas Akerlund directed Madonna’s hyper Ray of Light video and an entire Rammstein concert film. With the exception of Smokin’ Aces, Polar is the most a film has ever felt like a Rammstein concert movie without actually being one.
POLAR ★ (1/5 stars)
Directed by: Jonas Åkerlund
Written by: Jayson Rothwell, basic on the graphic novel by Victor Santos
Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Vanessa Hudgens
Running time: 118 min.
The story, what there is of one, is a mash-up of the “one last job and I’m out” trope and the hunt-down-the world’s-biggest-badass chase movie popularized by the Bourne flicks. An assassin known as “The Black Kaiser” (Mikkelsen) is weeks away from retirement when his hitman agency decides to retire him early to save money. He has a mopey neighbor (Hudgens) he cares about for no known reason. Let the hunt begin.
It’s based on a graphic novel and feels like it in all the worst ways. Gangsta gothic fonts blast the screen during location changes. Villains dress like a dominatrix version of Cher Horowitz. The sex seems like it was written by an alien who learned human sexuality from internet porn. The violence is gratuitous, graphic, and uninspired. It’s a SparkNotes version of a Sin City-John Wick double feature, but with more boobies and torture.
Mikkelsen is predictably solid, and most of his scenes with Hudgens have a silent tenderness that belong in a different, better movie. The core of the movie is loathsome, misogynist garbage. Mikkelsen and Hudgens deserve better and so does everyone else, even Smokin’ Aces fans.
Close and Some Cigar
Close, Netflix’s newest exercise in Noomi Rapace-ciousness, is a giant leap to a more Bechdel-friendly corner of the action universe. Rapace cut her teeth as a badass in the original The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo trilogy. She has a physicality and fierceness that can’t be faked. She holds the camera just being still. Her self-surgery scene in Prometheus is the best moment in the newer “Alien” movies, and would be a classic if Prometheu swere better. Netflix has tried to make Rapace happen, even delivering seven very thespianing Noomis in What Happened to Wednesday. Once you know that Wednesday is a woman with six sisters, you’ll guess that it didn’t quite work.
Close’s South Sudan (I learned that by googling a flag!) cold-open establishes Sam Carlson’s (Rapace) bona fides as she successfully bodyguards cowering journalists through a desert convoy gone wrong. Carlson is the opposite of David Budd from Bodyguard. She’s not suffering from PTSD and the only things she ever whips out of her pants are flashlights, knives, guns, or something that can approximate them. A peer who couldn’t keep it in his pants creates a job-opening for Sam. She just has to transport spoiled phosphate mining heiress Zoe Tanner (Sophie Nelisse) from the U.K. to Morocco. It’s an easy gig, a midnight run. Then, of course, things go, well, south.
CLOSE ★★★ (3/5 stars)
Directed by: Vicky Jewson
Written by: Vicky Jewson, Rupert Whitaker
Starring: Noomi Rapace, Olivia Jewson, Abdellatif Chaouqi
Running time: 94 min.
Director Vicky Jewson seems to feel most comfortable–and the movie is at its best–when her main character is working. Watching Rapace coldly assess security flaws and building exits is as invigorating as watching her beat the crap out of a baddie with her hands literally tied behind her back. The action is visceral and shot with a brutal immediacy. Jewson also understands that one of the most fun parts movie like this is watching the hero outthink the villains.
It’s unfortunate that the rest of the movie feels forced. Your mileage may vary on how you feel about predictable tropes like the heiress learning to fight while the bodyguard learns to feel. A hardly there subplot about Sam being estranged from her daughter is ineffective and unconvincing. The evil stepmother’s (Indira Varma) phosphate empire takeover scheme manages to be both underwritten and confusing. There are some laughable attempts at making convincing fake versions of cable news. A generic dirty Morocco cop has a distracting mustache that caused my roommate to yell at the screen, “It’s a me, Morocc-ioooo!!!”
I liked Close, but more because of what could be than what it is. Action movies with tough as woodpecker lips female leads are rare. Even rarer are ones where the hero is a pro just because she’s capable. My heckling roommate liked it more than I did. She got a chance to watch an action movie made by and about women. That’s important, but we still have to wait a while before Rapace gets a chance to be Jane Bond.