“I’m Paul Barlow, and this is my daughter Jo.”

“Malone.”

“You got a first name?”

“Yeah.”

Close

There’s this weird psychological thing about the availability of movies. I looked at IMDb and determined that I’ve seen every Coen Brothers movie since THE HUDSUCKER PROXY in the theater, most of them probly on the first day or opening weekend. That’s thirteen films over a period of 24 years. But when THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS went straight to Netflix I let it sit there for more than two months before I finally got to it. Because, you know, every weekend I wanted to go see WIDOWS or CREED II or on and on, and I rented THE FOREIGNER I needed to watch that and return it and then I wanted to watch some Christmas horror, that was more timely, that had a sell by date. I procrastinate more when it feels like it’s accessible at any moment between now and the day whatever black magic they’ve been using to stay in business wears out.

I bring this up to explain how surprised I am at myself for seeing an article mentioning the release date of the Netflix original CLOSE and realizing it had gone up 18 minutes ago and then spontaneously actually watching it. I sorta did that for THE NIGHT COMES FOR US too, but that came with the pedigree of HEADSHOT. This one I had seen a trailer and knew Noomi Rapace (THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, PROMETHEUS, PASSION, DEAD MAN DOWN, THE DROP) was a badass in it so it seemed like some DTV shit I could get behind.

The title refers to “close protection” – Rapace’s character Sam Carlson is an elite bodyguard and counter-terrorism expert for hire. Director/co-writer Vicky Jewson (BORN OF WAR) says it’s inspired by stories told to her by Jacquie Davis, a pioneering female bodyguard and consultant on the film who has protected everyone from Russian oligarchs (boooo!) to Diana Ross and Nicole Kidman (hooray!). And this does have a tinge of that heavily-researched-this-is-the-real-shit-right-here-people type of texture, but it just so happens that the types of stories you tell about this job fall exactly into normal action movie traditions.

So if a lack of originality is a dealbreaker for you, you’re not gonna make a deal here. It’s a gritty action thriller working in the very familiar area of “gruff badass protects young person, has heart warmed” (see also MAN ON FIRE, THE KEEPER, LOGAN). Any surprises in it are pretty subtle. But I liked it because it’s well executed and centers on a strong performance by the always interesting and in-my-opinion underrated Rapace.

We first meet Sam protecting reporters from a harrowing ambush by insurgents in South Sudan, so when it cuts to her off the clock it’s kind of like that feeling CRAZY HEART and A STAR IS BORN show so well, the whiplash of flying into some place and performing for thousands and then in the morning just being a normal person in a quiet house eating a bowl of cereal and watching some bullshit on TV.

That may be a weird connection to make. THE HURT LOCKER, AMERICAN SNIPER and other war movies dealing with P.T.S.D. would be a more direct comparison. Back at home Sam has shaky hands, she combines her morning coffee with smoking and gun cleaning, and she flinches when her phone makes a sound. But it doesn’t seem like she’s brooding. She’s got a nice beach front house and works out and tries to exist. She has some scabs on her face, neck and hands that don’t go away when she gets dressed up nice and professional for the private jet ride to another gig. It sounds like it’s from the prologue but it could also be some other adventure. I’m sure she gets into scraps all the time.

The job is to protect Zoe Tanner (Sophie Nelisse, THE GREAT GILLY HOPKINS), a teenager who just inherited her father’s controlling shares of a mining company. Zoe’s stepmother Rima Hassine (Indira Varma, Niobe from Rome) is now the CEO, and pissed that Zoe basically owns the company founded by her family. She makes Zoe go with her to the family Kasbah in Morocco while completing a billion dollar deal and, since the girl has been fucking her regular bodyguard, asks for him to be replaced by a woman.

Sam is not thrilled about the job, and Zoe doesn’t want to go to Morocco or have a new bodyguard, so they don’t hit it off. (I love the part in the dance club where she inserts herself between Zoe and the older dude she’s dirty dancing with.) Sam intends to leave as soon as she’s fulfilled her duty to drop the kid off at the place, but Zoe makes her stay the night, maybe out of brattiness, maybe to have another woman there she at least likes more than her stepmother. Lucky decision, it turns out, because Sam is still there when gunmen show up, override the security system and start shooting up the regular security team. Sam helps Zoe escape from the locked down fortress and waves down a police car.

I can’t say it’s surprising when the police turn out to have bad intentions. But I can say that it’s cool when Sam figures that out and launches an attack from the back of the police car. Like a TAKEN movie, much of this is about showing off her Very Particular Set of Skills, telling Zoe what she needs her to do, being able to strategize, how to hide, how to find a safe house or contact an ally, how to deal with this or that. Stuff I always enjoy. But a more novel aspect is the way the action never pretends this shit is easy. She’s fighting men who are bigger and stronger than her – they don’t even hide that she’s shorter than the teenager she’s protecting – so she has to be smarter and more resilient than them. And that means she takes a beating.

In my favorite fight scene she’s handcuffed. She uses her knees and her skull and even steals a gun and tries to fire it from behind her back, but she’s not some superwoman. She gets punched in the face and thrown around and beaten. But she keeps getting back up and continuing until she wins.

Oh, but there’s also an underwater fight. They got the “realistic” handheld cameras and everything but they’re not making one of those thrillers that insists on being too down-to-earth to be fun or cool. Stunt coordinator Julian Spencer also did SNOWPIERCER and EASTERN PROMISES. Jewson mentioned in an interview with one Mr. Fred Topel at slashfilm that Spencer specifically did the famous naked fight from the latter.

It’s also kind of novel to see a movie of this type that seems to only care about three female characters surrounded by mostly interchangeable men. All three are allowed to be flawed in different ways while still sympathetic. Sam is obviously heroic, and the emotional trauma at the center of her character arc is maybe a little too on the nose, but it’s also a specifically female issue and that’s kind of refreshing in a usually male formula. Zoe is a rude brat at first, and even after you start to warm up to her she might disappoint you, like when she says of a security guard who died protecting her, “That was his job!” But she’s young enough to be forgiven for acting out, and I’m a sucker for this kind of story where she and Sam go through the shit together and each learn from it and become close (OH MY GOD AND THE MOVIE IS CALLED CLOSE). Most surprising is Rima, who seems to be well meaning at first and then seems to be a cold hearted phony and then seems to be something more complicated.

There’s a little bit of the International Corporate Intrigue – not-very-believable financial news programming giving exposition about competing conglomerates and stocks taking a hit from news about Zoe being a fugitive and things like that. The tone is humorless, and it has exactly the musical score (by Marc Canham, THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ALICE CREED) that you expect in a Serious Thriller, but I think good locations, a lack of repetitiveness and some scenes with actual sunshine keep it from getting as dreary as these things often do. It has some scope to it too. They’re able to have some enclosed action in the fortified mansion (with suspense gimmicks involving security gates, cameras and intercoms) but also get out and move around to a variety of locations.

With this level of seriousness and production value you expect Pierce Brosnan or Sam Neill or somebody to show up as a politician, but I guess they didn’t feel it was necessary to put another name on the poster – a poster that was probly never printed out anyway. As far as we know Netflix will make the same amount of money from CLOSE whether every single person on Earth watches it every day for the rest of their life or not one person including Pierce Brosnan ever watches it, ever. Which is a pretty good business model for making weird action movies, so they should get weirder if you ask me. But for now I can appreciate a well-made formula one like this.

In fact I’d love to see more Sam Carlson close protection adventures, so be sure to support it by… clicking on it? Giving it a thumbs up? Recommending it to Siri? Who knows. Nobody knows.

This entry was posted on Thursday, January 24th, 2019 at 1:40 pm and is filed under Action, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

29 Responses to “Close”

  1. I’m in!

    About 10 years ago I met the Queen of Sweden (strange, but true). I remember nothing about it except that at some point in the evening Abba’s Dancing Queen got played, and that her female close protection officer (she had a male one as well) was probably the coolest person I have ever met or expect to meet. So I really hope they make it clear in this that Rapace’s Carlson is Swedish. I’m less bothered about whether they play any Abba on the soundtrack though.

  2. Sorry, no Abba, and I don’t think they specify her nationality. I believe the director and the inspiration for the character are both English, but it sounds like Rapace’s normal accent to me. And thanks for the story.

  3. I thought Abba WAS the Queen of Sweden.

  4. Millennium Films chief Avi Lerner says they are sticking with Bryan Singer for Red Sonja.

    GLAAD Pulls ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ Nom Over Latest Bryan Singer Accusations; ‘Red Sonja’ Still On Track For Director

    Before GLAAD announces its Media Awards nominations tomorrow morning, the organization has already disqualified Bohemian Rhapsody, a film it previously championed in its depiction of gay icon Fredd…

    Talk about wrong.

  5. Let’s look on the bright side. He went from flagship superhero blockbusters and Oscar bait studio biopics to working for Millenium Films on a remake of a Brigitte Nielsen movie that maybe seven people remember fondly. He’s basically become a hack for hire. He’s Simon West. That’s not ideal but it’s progress, right?

  6. As an avid reader of the Red Sonja comics. She deserves a director that does her justice.

  7. You’re right. There’s no bright side here.

  8. Also, and this might be my imagination, but are we getting a glut of movies where parents are failing and we better look to unlikely strangers and the hired help to see us through difficult times?

    Hardly a new story, I admit, but I see this across genres just now:
    Action – CLOSE
    Kids – MARY POPPINS RETURNS
    Prestige drama – ROMA
    Arthouse – SHOPLIFTERS

    I know Disney have wanted Mary Poppins to return for a while, but why now? This feels to me like its about something more than IP. Or am I overthinking this?

  9. Oh man, Vern, your description of the psychology of movie availability is spot-on. And I actually think it has to do with the model as much as it does with availability; I try to see Coen Brothers movies or whatever opening weekend not only because I’m excited, but also to support them. When I know the movie is available anytime forever, and it doesn’t really matter if anyone ever watches it, it’s a lot harder to feel compelled to prioritize it.

  10. Ironically BUSTER SCRUGGS might be the first and only Netflix movie that I checked out almost immediately, because of my love for the Coen Bros, while nearly every other Netflix original rots unseen on my watchlist, because they sure as hell won’t get randomly removed from that websight.

  11. I caught this one last night after everyone else had gone to bed and I thought it was pretty fun! What drew me in right away was actually a silly little directing trick in the very beginning during the opening ambush sequence- when the camera is on the driver or the protectee, it’s very jittery and nervous and shakey-cam style, but as soon as the shot cuts to Rapace, it’s rock-steady calm. I thought using the camera from shot to shot in that way to reflect the mental states of the different people in this scenario was really cool. Good one overall, Netflix is really starting to nail it with their homebrew action flicks.

    Speaking of- anyone seen/planning to watch the new one starring Mads Mikkelson Netflix just put out today? It’s called “Polar”, and it looks like a John Wick type of thing but with Mikkelson styled up like Snake Plissken, with an eyepatch and trenchcoat and all. Apparently it’s about a retired assassin whose old co-workers kidnap his daughter- *classic* action movie mistake. I’m working from home today and have it queued up now.

  12. I’ve been out of town for the last week but it looks like I got some catching up to do when I get home. Giving every cool actor a chance to make their own midbudget action vehicle might be the best possible use of Netflix’s billions.

  13. I get it, I mean something is available to you at any time, forever, you might wait to watch it. Coen brothers though, I watched Buster Scruggs immediately, just because I love them, whether or not it’s on the big screen or my TV. I like Netflix for DTV and foreign films that I might not have gotten to before. I still go to the movie theater at least 3 times a week. So, Netflix hasn’t effected my movie-going, but it has increased the amount of DTV and foreign language films I’ve seen. Good or bad, I don’t know, but it’s not going away. I loved Filmstruck too, sad to see it go, but at least we’re getting a Criterion channel at some point in the near future. I get the argument, but the more access to film a person has is a good thing in my opinion. Oh, and I dug Close. Especially what you pointed out Vern about the fights not being easy.

  14. The Kurgan – excellent point about the camerawork. I noticed the shakiness going away but didn’t make that connection.

    I actually watched POLAR last night after midnight (this might become a tradition if they keep making promising action movies) so I’ll have a review sometime fairly soon. I will say for now that I enjoyed it and if you find the opening annoying give it a little time because that’s not the tone of the whole movie.

  15. Just last night, I watched another Noomi joint called “Unlocked,” which seems to have all the opposite traits of this one. The fight stuff is pretty basic (handled by vet director Michael Apted), the cast is filled with people solely for poster “wow” like Michael Douglas and Toni Collette and the finale takes places before an international football game between “Portland and Oklahoma” that also features a countdown clock. They brazenly left it open for a sequel, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen. Still, I enjoy Rapace as an action badass.

  16. I didn’t think much of UNLOCKED. Rapace is okay but can see all the twists a mile away.

  17. As the weirdo who enjoys observing how women smoke, thanks for that thumbnail, Vern. And thanks for just plain putting this on my radar, coz I prolly woulda skipped it otherwise.

  18. This one was just a big ol’ plate of meat and potatoes for a guy with my tastes. Nothing spectacular, but a well-done spin on a reliable template. I could have used maybe a slightly more spectacular finishing move, I’m not sure I 100% understand the plot (What was Rina hiring that guy in the tan suit to do if not kill Zoe?) and I could definitely live without ever hearing a movie character say “Why do you do that? You shut people out!” ever again, but it’s hard to complain too hard when exactly the kind of movie you want to see gets beamed directly into your home from outer space at no additional charge. The future mostly blows but I can’t complain about this one aspect of it.

    I allowed watched POLAR, which kept almost losing me but I’m glad I stuck it out because it ended up being better than just the rehash of wacky late 90s/early 2000s “freeze frame character introductions with corny fonts” hitman movies it kept threatening to be. There was enough John Wick in there to balance out the Lucky Number Slevin. But if someone could tell me why in the fuck it’s named what it’s named I would be very grateful.

  19. I liked this one a lot but I love Noomi Rapace and would have watched this one even if it was not that good. I liked the action and unapologetic toughness of the female characters.

    The underwater scene did not appeal to me though.

    As for Polar, I’m the only person in the world who is not enamoured with Mr. Mikkelsen. Jagten was a good film and it was a good performance but he just doesn’t do it for me for some inexplicable reason. So I’ll pass on Polar.

  20. Eliza: I can see where you’re coming from on Mads. I can generally take or leave him. He’s got a cool look and a badass aura but I’ve never seen him do anything all that impressive. He’s the Boba Fett of European character actors.

  21. If you haven’t already, you should also check out a movie on Netflix called “What Happened to Monday” in which Rapace plays seven identical sisters and does a great job at giving each of them distinct personalities and quirks. Stick with it because at first it seems like it’s going to be another bleak sci-fi dystopian bummer, but as it goes along it turns into a surprisingly clever and rousing action flick.

  22. TGD – Yeah, I was planning to watch that one, glad to hear you like it. I’ll most likely give UNLOCKED a shot too.

  23. What Happened To Monday is very good. Rapace is great as the seven siblings and the SFX that brings them together is seamless, with some very complicated shots. It also has an intriguing story, and several well handled action and suspense set pieces.

    Close is pretty good, but I think it really needed a proper action climax.

  24. @ejsteeler you forgot Orlando Bloom and John Malkovitch. And I though it was a good time waster.

  25. I concur on “what happened to monday”, Vern you should check that and unlocked. You’ll like both.

  26. Thanks for the shoutout to my interview. I also endorse What Happened to Monday.

  27. Ha, I honestly didn’t notice your byline. Sorry. I have added your name to the review because that’s what I would’ve done if I’d realized it was you.

  28. Thank you. I honestly wasn’t fishing. I’m just glad I got something good out of the interview. I’m honored.

  29. I know you weren’t. It’s funny actually how often I’m reading an interview or news story and don’t realize at first that you wrote it. You get around so much.

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