One Shot


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

UCF's Jess Liaudin takes on our hero
"Whilst the set-up may in many ways resemble a video game, with long sequences staged around twisty corridors and an improbable number of outbuildings, the tension is real."

Watching today’s big budget action films, it’s easy to become cynical. Yes, there are a small number which are still trying to push the envelope where stunts and fight scenes are concerned (foremost among them the John Wick franchise, whose fourth instalment features this film’s lead, Scott Adkins), but as a rule, so much is pasted in or heavily polished using CGI that they don’t quite feel real, and nothing much seems to be at stake. It’s a whole different experience when you know that the moves you’re watching were performed for real, and where that’s concerned, this film delivers.

The strength of film as a medium is its ability to generate illusions. That is also its weakness. When watching a really good theatre performance, one knows that the actors are having to capture everything in the moment, with no room for mistakes, and it’s electrifying. This is something that Hitchcock tried to capture when he made Rope, the first feature length one shot film (whose ten cleverly hidden cuts are almost invisible to the untrained eye). Watching a real life action movie is more like witnessing circus acrobats on the high wire or flying trapeze, with the benefit of a story thrown in. It’s a tremendous exhibition of physical skill and stamina, and this makes it exciting even if the story doesn’t work – which, fortunately, this one does.

Adkins plays Jake, leader of a small team of Navy SEALs whose mission is to accompany young CIA analyst Zoe (Ashley Greene) to a holding base. There they are supposed to collect detainee Amin Mansur (Waleed Elgadi) and fly him to Washington for urgent questioning. But circumstances are against them. The base commander (Ryan Phillippe) doesn’t want to let go of his favourite punching bag – he lost a loved one to terrorism and enjoys getting his revenge. He makes things as difficult as he can, seeming particularly resentful of the fact that orders are coming from a young woman. Then, just as the team are about to leave, the base is attacked by a group of terrorists who want to secure the information they believe is inside Mansur’s head in the most obvious way – and at any cost.

Whilst the set-up may in many ways resemble a video game, with long sequences staged around twisty corridors and an improbable number of outbuildings, the tension is real. We have just long enough at the start to get to know the team members and what they mean to each other, and to understand the responsibility Jake feels both for looking after them and for completing the mission. Over time, we also get to appreciate the predicament faced by Mansur, who is a far more complex character than one would usually expect to find in that situation. Whilst the film hinges on military action, it is far from jingoistic, acknowledging a multifaceted political landscape and the way this can intersect with personal experience. Struggling to survive without any of the fighting skills possessed by the others, Mansur becomes, at times, a character whom one instinctively roots for, leading up to a powerful final scene which defies the conventional logic of the genre and does something which, instead, feels true to the characters, bold and refreshing.

The film is cleverly scripted to supply us with little tidbits of information, in passing, which will become vital to the story later on, but these are not as obvious as they might seem. The plot packs in quite a few twists without undermining the consistency of the characters. Conversational scenes provide rest points (for actors as well as viewers) and allow for the ups and downs that make action movie pacing work, yet they’re slotted in without feeling unnatural. Elizabeth el-Kadhi’s inspired production design positions everything exactly where it’s needed to keep moving the story forward, whilst Liviu Jipescu’s seamless editing really makes us feel that we’re there in the moment, never looking away.

The main focus of the film is, of course, on Adkins, who does an impressive job of developing his character at the same time as putting himself through long sequences of running, jumping, shooting and fighting which clearly push him to the limit. Although there are moments when the film looks rough (unpolished rather than lacking in credibility), these only add to that rawness that makes it so vital, and Adkins gives it energy despite the fact that he isn’t having to act to convey exhaustion. The fights are stunningly choreographed, which is particularly difficult when they’re stacked up one after another and involve multiple players. All of the fighters are fully committed and their work really shines.

Elgadi delivers the standout performance as an actor but Adkins, too, acquits himself well in this department and nobody lets the side down. There is a certain theatricality about One Shot, stemming from its form, but that’s not altogether a bad thing. It’s an unabashed experiment, an exploration of cinema’s potential, and the fact that it’s fun to watch as well – and sometimes surprisingly moving – is the icing on the cake.

Reviewed on: 05 Nov 2021
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One Shot packshot
An elite squad of Navy SEALs, on a covert mission to transport a prisoner off a CIA black site island prison, are trapped when insurgents attack.

Director: James Nunn

Writer: James Nunn, Jamie Russell

Starring: Scott Adkins, Ashley Greene, Waleed Elgadi, Ryan Phillippe, Jess Liaudin

Year: 2021

Runtime: 96 minutes

Country: UK


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