Director: Michael Apted
Cast: Noomi Rapace, Orlando Bloom, Toni Collette, Michael Douglas, John Malkovich, Akshay Kumar, Aymen Hamdouchi, Tosin Cole
MPAA Rating: (for violence and language)
Running Time: 1:38
Release Date: 9/1/17 (limited)
Review by Mark Dujsik | August 31, 2017
A twisty tale of double-crosses and betrayals, Unlocked is competent throughout and pretty good until all of the pieces fall into place. At that point, the movie reveals itself to be a routine spy thriller in which everything leads to some obvious revelations, a politically radical conspiracy that's treated as an afterthought, some shooting and fighting and cliffhanging, and a race against a digital clock, ticking down the milliseconds until a potentially devastating attack.
The setup is knowingly subversive in its depiction of the intelligence fight against international terrorism. The payoff displays that the screenplay by Peter O'Brien has only worked that angle so that the plot can twist and turn for its own sake—not to make any kind of bigger point.
That might be fine in a movie of lesser intelligence and with fewer signs of craft. This one, though, obviously thinks it's saying something about the war-without-end on terrorism, and it does so with some solid performances and a few setpieces that both make sense for the story, as well as the characters, and generate a bit of tension, even if we already know exactly where they're heading. The movie possesses signs of life and a brain, so it's mostly a disappointment that the third act feels brain-dead by comparison.
The plot involves a CIA operative in London named Alice Racine (Noomi Rapace, making for a solid action heroine in a role that's simply a generic action heroine), who left active duty as an interrogator after failing to stop a terrorist attack in Paris. Her old boss Eric Lasch (Michael Douglas) insists the attack wasn't her fault. The authorities were simply too slow to respond to the information she obtained from a prisoner. Alice now does undercover work, obtaining information about potential terrorist activity within the local immigrant community.
A new attack appears to be imminent, orchestrated by an imam with known ties to attacks and funded by a wealthy, American convert. The London branch of the CIA has captured the imam's messenger, and they recruit Alice to get the message from the prisoner.
The deception begins almost immediately, as it turns out that the intelligence guys who recruit Alice aren't at all on the level (The way she figures this out—seeing someone obviously putting a silencer on his pistol through the reflection of sunglasses—is a good starting point for how conveniently inept the bad guys here are). Seemingly major characters die in the first act (which means that the role of one of these characters in all of this is a foregone conclusion), and the question of whom among the survivors Alice can trust in this game is a constant.
Among her apparent allies are Emily Knowles (Toni Collette), a contact in MI5, and Bob Hunter (John Malkovich), the director of the CIA at Langley, who seems almost amused by how out of the loop he and his agents are. A lot of these actors could deliver the performances of these standard-issue characters in their sleep, but to their credit, they don't.
The real surprise here is how O'Brien's screenplay constantly and repeatedly changes the stakes of the plot as new information comes to light. It seems like a simple task at first: Get the message from the captured terrorist to determine where and when an attack will take place. Once the prisoner is out of the picture, it becomes a hunt for an alternative means of getting that information. A few more players come into the game, mainly Jack (Orlando Bloom), a thief who has either the worst luck or a transparent alibi for some other goal. He's robbing the apartment in which Alice hides following the fallout of the interrogation, and since he knows a bit too much and has some military experience, Alice lets him tag along for the search.
Some of the movie's bigger twists are obvious, since O'Brien is essentially begging us to question the face-value motives and alliances of the characters, but for a while, it doesn't matter. Director Michael Apted maintains a sense of momentum, bringing us from one revelation and one setpiece to the next. Much of this plot could strain credibility, but the movie moves fast enough that it doesn't. At a certain point, we stop anticipating who will betray Alice and for what reason, because we also know that each revelation will bring with it a new way of looking at the story, as well as some bit of action.
The action sequences amount to fights and chases, but there's little that's routine about them. An early firefight takes advantage of the enclosed space of a hotel room, and the chase that follows makes quick but good use of a narrow stairwell. A lot of the action here is confined, never more so than a stalemate in an elevator, which is resolved by way of a trio of new passengers—one of them human and two of them not.
The subversive part comes from the identity of the real villains here, as well as their motive for keeping the attack on track. It's the usual sort of conspiracy, but it's grounded in genuine cynicism about the nature of how counter-terrorism campaigns are executed. Just when Unlocked is in a position to make something of this attitude, though, it kicks into autopilot.
Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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