Legacy: Black Ops

***1/2

Reviewed by: Paul Griffiths

Legacy: Black Ops
"The real star here is creator Thomas Ikimi."

Legacy is the respectable professional debut from Thomas Ikimi. Writing, producing and directing, he ably shows that a tightly constructed story can swell beyond the confines of even the slightest budget.

Malcolm Gray (Idris Elba) is a member of black ops unit Darkhammer, on the run from a disastrous assignment to assassinate a gunrunner in Eastern Europe. Physically scarred by torture, mentally slashed by experience, he makes it back home to New York and sets up camp in a dingy Brooklyn motel room.

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It would seem that the ambitious politician on his grubby TV, senator Darnell Gray Jr, Malcolm’s brother, not only founded Darkhammer, but sold it out to the arms dealer. On top of that, with Malcolm missing-in-action his wife Valentina has turned to Darnell for comfort. As he traces his sibling’s ladder-climbing campaign in the papers he starts passing damning intel to a crusading journalist, to expose Darnell’s dirty dealings. Yet, as the details spill out for us Malcolm’s sense of reality spirals away from him. The more we learn of his ordeal, what brings him to this cramped room, the less we can trust his perception of what is happening.

Elba was originally approached to play the leaner senator’s role, which eventually went to Eamonn Walker for a fine turn. As it is, his Malcolm is in practically every scene, holding most with an unswerving commitment. Characters that need to show outwardly their inner disquiet can demand a fine line between credible disturbance and histrionic indulgence. Elba manages to balance Malcolm’s slow mental deterioration with a remorseless weariness and gathering moments of brutal anguish. It is a compelling less-is-more performance, but on a few occasions more judicious editing may have helped curtail some of the seemingly improv’d scenes.

Clarke Peters (The Wire) as Darkhammer’s captain and Monique Gabriela Curnen (Dark Knight, Half Nelson) as Valentina add to Walker’s able support. A tad less convincing are some of the minor characters' accents and the staginess of some short fight scenes.

Despite this becoming a lead vehicle for hot property Elba (The Wire, The Losers), who also exec produced, the real star is creator Thomas Ikimi. Filming almost wholly in the motel room, he makes inventive, unshowy use of the cramped confines. Playing to his Red Camera’s strengths, he uses shadows, subdued tones and light to reflect and infuse the room with Malcolm’s decline. His screenplay rests on a strong structure that cleverly mixes flashbacks with present-day illusions to bring the story together as Malcolm’s grip unwinds. There are satisfying set-ups and pay-offs and pleasing polarities. Soldier vs. politician, husband and wife, honour against betrayal, reality mixing illusion and history written both large and personal. Ikimi uses a broad political canvas and the spectre of PTSD for modern combatants to portray a deeply personal experience that just about holds us to the end. The final twists shed full light on what has passed, to gratifying effect, although maybe not enough to have you watch it again. Ultimately, it may be less unnerving than Cronenberg or less enthralling than Nolan, but the tense content and narrative design successfully speak to both, especially the latter, one of Ikimi's cited influences.

Ikimi is an undoubted talent who had to return to Nigeria to raise the entire production and post budget. With this in mind, he has now sadly shipped Stateside for better representation.

Reviewed on: 04 Oct 2010
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A former special agent holed up in a hotel room in the aftermath of a failed Eastern European mission grows suspicious of his brother's political success.
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Director: Thomas Ikimi

Writer: Thomas Ikimi

Starring: Idris Elba, Eamonn Walker, Monique Gabriela Curnen, Richard Brake

Year: 2010

Runtime: 130 minutes

Country: Nigeria, UK


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