Directed by Navot Papushado | Written by Papushado and Ehud Lavski | 114 min | Netflix
“There’s a group of men called The Firm. When they need someone to clean up a mess, they send me.”
That’s how this stylish, candy-neon actioner starts, right in the head of Sam (Karen Gillan), an assassin living in her mother’s shadow. Mom, Scarlet (Lena Headey), was also a killer but abandoned Sam when she was a kid. Sam still went into the family business, which has meant ending the lives of a lot of bad men, apparently.
The Firm, via their liaison Nathan (Paul Giamatti), tasks Sam to find an accountant who liberated a pile of their money. Turns out the accountant’s 8-and-three-quarters-year-old daughter, Emily (Chloe Coleman), has been abducted, and he stole the cash for her ransom. Sam shoots the accountant but then takes the money to the kidnappers, and saves Emily. That sours things with the Firm. Sam had already screwed up once that same night by killing the wrong gangster’s son, and so has a lot of bad men gunning for her from all angles.
Cue an amalgam of John Wick and Kill Bill, but a movie a little more cartoonish and a whole lot funnier than those, with a 10-outta-10 for the gorgeously shot and brilliantly staged sequences of hand-to-hand combat. I mean to say, this is something special — if it’s not nearly as original as those other films, it matches them for sheer pleasure of choreographed punching, gouging, stabbing, jumping, and shooting. An ingenious scene in a parking garage involving two BMWs and a bright red Porsche 944 is worthy of Walter Hill’s The Driver, with maybe a touch of Highlander in the decapitations.
The Wick indebtedness carries over into the arcane rules of this brutally violent universe and its strange safe zones. There it was The Continental, here it’s a diner where the goons have to hand over their guns.
We learn that while Sam and her Mom were together, they kept company with The Librarians, three women (the magnificent Carla Gugino, Angela Bassett, and Michelle Yeoh) all with a special set of skills. The leather-bound classic editions of their books hold an arsenal, naturally. It’s no kind of spoiler to let you in on the fact they’ll play a big role in the action later on.
To add to the props here, let’s hear it for the excellent use of Berlin locations — the whole film was shot there — with those orange tiles at the Messedamm Underpass a dead giveaway, familiar from Hanna, The Bourne Supremacy, and Captain America: Civil War. Berlin does a lot of the heavy lifting to make this thing stand out.
My biggest kudos are reserved for the composer, Haim Frank Ilfman. The sheer variety of his musical styles — with a special love for Ennio Morricone — makes this the most exciting score I’ve heard in ages. It lifts the film from its so-so moments into the stratosphere.
But, about those moments. This isn’t an especially deep movie — you might even find not much more than an ephemeral, if bloody, popcorn flick for a hot summer night. Its plot is not without a few large bullet holes.
But, thematically, the movie is literally about taking down the patriarchy with really big guns. Hard not to love that.