by Chris Banks
Poor old Dominic Cooper, an actor of unquestionable talent and vim, trudging around this cut-price James Bond knock-off with all the lustre of a man trapped in multi-storey shopping centre on Black Friday.
Simon West’s Stratton is an attempt to launch a new spy hero onto British cinema screens; like a more homely and approachable version of Bond or a less exhausting Bourne. Problem is, it’s carried off with such a lack of panache on pretty much every conceivable level, that you know it will have killed this attempt at birthing a new cinema-dynasty before it has even had a chance to get up to full speed.
Cooper is, of course, Stratton: a Special Boat Service operative working closely with MI6 to foil terrorist plots around the globe. He works in tandem with a US Navy Seal partner (for commercial potential one presumes) who is killed within the movies’ opening action set-piece. Dealing with the guilt he feels over the death of his former Partner, Stratton must push ahead and forge a new working relationship with the hot-headed Navy Seal replacement while continuing to uncover a terrorist plan and deal with a potential mole within the UK intelligence services.
Henry Cavill was originally in place to play Stratton in what, one suspects, would have been an attempt to boost his leading-man spy credentials and place himself in a James Bond-shaped shop window. With that ship having presumably sailed for Cavill, the role has been filled by Cooper in what may be an exercise in damage limitation, or at the very least an attempt to make the best of an eight-book option on a very modest budget.
I have not read any of the Duncan Falconer novels on which the movie is based, but I’m going to assume they’re heavy on technical detail and realism, but lacking in any great sense of poetry. Falconer fans, feel free to tell me to belt up, but my hunch is they appeal to a type of military enthusiast more interested in the correct way to change magazines and rack the slide on a handgun while under fire, rather than trivial details like character, wit or emotional heft.
That is not, in itself, a bad thing but you sense a clinical sort of boring studiousness filtering through into the movie. All efforts seem to have been put into making the thing feel authentic, rather than enjoyable to watch. Despite a gamely effort from Cooper, Stratton the man feels like a drab office numbers drone, or the friend-of-a-friend military history nerd who spoils a perfectly good afternoon at the pub by jabbering on about Marcus Crassus’s disastrous attempt to march into Parthia without cavalry support. It feels somewhat like watching a film written by Mr Logic from Viz magazine.
Simon West has spoken of his hope that this will be the launching pad for a long and successful action series centred around the eponymous SBS man. You sense that this, and possible future offerings, could be semi-profitable and find an audience in a very stripped-down straight-to-DVD way. But without an injection of character into what is a pretty dry, bland first offering, it’s unlikely to find mainstream success in the way its director hopes.
Dir: Simon West
Scr: Duncan Falconer, Warren Davis II
Starring: Dominic Cooper, Gemma Chan, Austin Stowell, Tyler Hoechlin, Tom Felton
Prd: Matthew Jenkins
DOP: Felix Wiedemann
Music: Nathaniel Méchaly