Unlocked: Anodyne spy action

There seems something vaguely inappropriate about Orlando Bloom saying, in one of the worst Jason Statham impressions of recent time, that one of his ‘mates’ died in the 7/7 attacks. He’s trying to justify why his small time crook, caught lifting a television from CIA agent Alice’s (Noomi Rapace) flat, should be allowed to tag along on an investigation into an unfolding bioterrorist attack. Maybe it’s something a better actor could have pulled off, but coming out of the mouth of this dude who also stumbles his way through a monologue about his time serving in Helmand Province, you just want him to fuck right off.

He also lives on a mattress, artfully arranged in a empty warehouse. The character feels super out of place in the film, this heightened everyman, it’s like if you put Sheriff J.W. Pepper from Live and Let Die alongside Daniel Craig’s version of Bond. So dour are MI5 chief Toni Colette and CIA operative John Malkovich, that the arrival of this joking, gurning sidekick character feels like the work of an indecisive screenwriter struggling to establish a cohesive tone.

Michael Apted’s drab direction don’t really help out here. Everything comes out blandly, a weird stultifying greyness over the flick, he’s a London filmmaker, so he really should be better at capturing London than this. I imagine it was the budget that limited him to interiors, but for a flick that wants to explore the underprivileged areas of the capital it totally fails to capture the feel of these places. From Bloom’s warehouse apartment, to this sparkly clean parking garage under a tower estate, there’s an unreality to the spaces these characters find themselves in.

Alice navigates her situation with the help of her underworld contacts, which she has made while working undercover providing government assistance to immigrant families. It’s how you know she’s a good guy, and it is nice to see a positive representation of our immigrant communities, even if their final fate is just to be treated as disposable cannon fodder to be placed in between our heroes and the guns pointed in their direction.

The film feels like it’s struggling to deal with the changing situation in the Middle East, the rise of Daesh as the new leading force of anti-western aggression. Equally with the building prominence of right and far-right sentiment at home, this is a film in which the portrait of Obama is hanging in the American offices. The Islamic terrorists are provided no chance to state their own outlook, aside from the religious elder who proclaims himself tired of the violence. At the same time there is operating an American extremist counter plot, which in the words of the character describing his aims seems to be only the dumbest nonsense.

Which would be more forgivable if the film only aspired to be dumb nonsense. Kingsman‘s treatment of lower class London was pretty shitty by most regards, but in context it didn’t have to be, it’s a wild spy joint after all. Unlocked (and I have no idea what that title is referring to) is posturing at all these grand ideas, and yet when pressed comes up with literally nothing to say about them. I look at the history of the screenplay and see it made it onto the blacklist back in 2008. Barring the, I suppose inevitable rewrites it’s received, this is a concept dreamed up when Bush was in the White House. A time when that reference to the 7/7 bombings would have felt timely, rather than out of place.

Maybe in the context of that time there could have come something out of this, but today we are not living in a world where this political reality seems pressing. It all seems slightly absurd: Michael Douglas’ spymaster in his wood panelled London mansion seems as alien to us as the American Football game, which for some reason is happening in London, well attended by legions of fans. The trailer has the two team names: Oklahoma and Portland. What???

Maybe all of this could be forgivable if somehow it managed to wrangle out of all the disparate pieces some sense of a working spy thriller, but it totally don’t. There’s a whole bunch of sequences that are just dumb and stupid, and are leads don’t act in ways any more explainable. Michael Apted decided to entrust his stunt choreographer with the second unit direction in a way that totally does not pay off, fights awkwardly shot and paced. Some godawful backstory stuff which fails to motivate those it colours or remotely interest the viewer.

It’s a boring mess of a film, but for all the blame to throw at those involved in the production, the true crime was committed by those who decided to produce it in the first place. For a 2017 release it’s unforgivable.

Unlocked is currently screening in UK cinemas

Image courtesy of Lionsgate

One response to “Unlocked: Anodyne spy action”

  1. […] Michael Apted’s Unlocked  is a film with a portrait of Obama on the wall, written when Bush was president. It doesn’t play so well under the shadow of Trump. […]


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