Bushwick

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Bushwick - Lucy emerges from a Brooklyn subway to find that her neighbourhood is under attack by black-clad military soldiers. An ex-Marine corpsman, Stupe, reluctantly helps her fight for survival through a civil war, as Texas attempts to secede from the United States of America.
"Pulls no punches as it takes viewers on a terrifying ride through once-familiar territory turned utterly alien."

In March 2015, when work began on Bushwick, it was seen as a fairly far-fetched thriller - a sort of at-home insurgency answer to Red Dawn. As it opens in August 2017, it contains footage one might not be all that surprised to see on the news. Fate has given it a relevance far beyond what its creators could have envisaged, and until the inevitable TV movies about Charlottesville make their way onto our screens, this is as close to the bone as any piece of fiction you're likely to see.

Ask ordinary people who have been caught up in events like that in Charlottesville what happened and the first thing they'll usually tell you about is their utter confusion, that sense of deep disorientation that occurs when all the rules of day to day living are suddenly meaningless. That's very much the experience of Lucy (Brittany Snow), whose first hint that anything is amiss is when a burning man runs screaming through the underground station. She's been on the train; she had been wondering why there was nobody on the platform. She hasn't heard any kind of warning. When she gets up to the entrance, people are throwing grenades.

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Lucy's grandmother lives five blocks away. Her first impulse is to seek shelter there. A combination of luck and instinct keeps her alive until she finds herself in the basement abode of traumatised war veteran Stupe (Dave Bautista). They don't know each other, don't initially relate to each other at all, but if they're going to survive, they're going to have to do it together.

There's a lot here that might appeal to those with a romantic view of combat, or heroism and pseudo-military glory. Bushwick is not a romantic film. It pulls no punches as it takes viewers on a terrifying ride through once-familiar territory turned utterly alien. In the chaos, local gangs become as dangerous as the invading militia. Some individuals shoot on sight just because they're scared. No quarter is given to non-combatants. Non-fatal bullets result in horrible injuries and we watch as they're painfully tended to.

Bautista may be an actor more by accident than design, but he fits this character well and keeps Stupe believable, letting us see both his skills and his limitations. Snow is impressive as Lucy, taking us from terror through a growing competence to the sort of unjustified confidence that makes inexperienced soldiers both vulnerable and dangerous. Their chemistry works well, and though Stupe's backstory has its share of clich├ęs, the protective feeling he develops for her rings true.

In and around the central story, Bushwick explores the racial tensions running through modern New York and its difficult relationship with the Southern States. The bitter history of northern migration in the early 20th Century is visible everywhere, yet never directly discussed, in keeping with Lucy's naivety. There's an astute understanding of the mechanics of privilege and not a lot of room for pity. A captured soldier could be any one of the American Nazis seen at Charlottesville, his youthful white face twisted in anger yet somehow unable to voice a clear defence of his beliefs. Everyone seems to be just following orders or looking for somebody to follow.

Directors Cary Murnion and Jonathan Milott do a fine job with the pacing and the action scenes, staying close, rarely allowing us a glimpse of the bigger picture, so that the visual landscape mirrors the social one. We hurtle along streets, up stairs and over rooftops with a visceral energy, but shaky-cam is reserved for pertinent moments, so this isn't another of those 90 minute struggles against seasickness. Cinematographer Lyle Vincent does an excellent job of keeping things clear - or as clear as they should be - as we lurch between light and dark environments. Crisp sound design adds to the terror by continually telling us that there are worse things happening just out of sight.

If America is ready to listen to warnings, Bushwick delivers - no matter what your politics. And in a calmer, more peaceful age, it will still be a bloody good film.

Reviewed on: 20 Aug 2017
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A young woman teams up with a military veteran to try and survive when insurgents bring war to the streets of New York City.
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