SENTINELLE is a pretty good 2021 French revenge movie that’s mostly made out of cliches, but benefits from a dedicated performance by its star Olga Kurylenko (HITMAN, MAX PAYNE, QUANTUM OF SOLACE, SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS, OBLIVION, THE NOVEMBER MAN, BLACK WIDOW) and the artful direction of Julien Leclercq (THE ASSAULT, THE BOUNCER). You may also be interested to know that it’s only 80 minutes long. I don’t really subscribe to the “movies are too long these days” conventional wisdom, but I was looking for something to watch kind of late and I have to admit that brevity was one of the selling points for me in this instance. (It’s on Netflix.)
It opens, like 50% of modern action movies, with a prologue where the hero is participating in the war on terror. This one is above average because it’s well staged, is not tinted yellow, and at least takes place in Syria instead of Afghanistan. But it’s a familiar scenario where she’s the very caring interpreter trying to calm a woman (Sarah Al Sayed Obeid) and get her son back to her but she realizes too late that the kid’s dad has turned him into a suicide bomber.
So after watching her friend and a child get vaporized right in front of her, Klara is back home in Nice, living with her mother (Antonia Malinova) and her younger sister Tania (Marilyn Lima, MERMAID IN PARIS). She resents that even though she speaks five languages they transferred her to counter-terrorist operations that just mean walking around a tourist area with a couple other soldiers wearing berets and holding rifles, in case the shit ever goes down. Which it doesn’t. On her first day the guys she patrols with tell her they mostly just give directions to tourists.
Klara has many issues. For one, she’s picked up a pill addiction. Even if she wasn’t loopy from drugs she’s working this job where there’s basically nothing to do, they don’t even seem to talk to each other, but because of her experiences overseas she worries about danger being all around her. One day she actually finds something to do – intervene with some drunk asshole beating up a woman on the beach – so she hands her rifle to her partner, punches the dude in the face, tackles him, drags him into the water and basically tries to drown him. It’s a good scene because you get to enjoy both this fucker getting it and Klara’s co-workers having to pull her off of him and wonder what the fuck is wrong with her. Plus the awkward silence in the car afterwards.
I think the way we do policing in the U.S. is insane and idiotic, but I was still shocked to see these soldiers walking around in camo holding rifles. You don’t usually get that here. And you sure as fuck wouldn’t go up to them and ask where the museum is. Or at least I wouldn’t. But I’m glad they have a rule that they’re not supposed to beat the shit out of a dude on a beach, even though he deserves it.
The movie illustrates why a job like this is problematic. Klara actually sets her sights on some kid who reminds her of the suicide bomber back in Syria. Luckily she decides not to snipe a random child, and nobody sees that she was considering it. And we know that it’s because she’s traumatized. But #1, didn’t they move her to this job specifically because she was traumatized? And #2, even if she wasn’t, don’t you see how getting suited up for war every day causes a person to go looking for a war to fight?
Well, this is a revenge movie, so she gets a war. Her sister Tania drags her to a dance club one night, but ends up leaving before her, with some young Russian dude from the VIP section. At the time Klara is not too bothered by it because a woman (Marine Duvivier) dances up to her, they start making out on the spot and go home together. I respect that the sex scene doesn’t seem overly concerned with being tasteful, and that her enjoying the company of women was never forewarned and is not mentioned subsequently, because it’s not a big deal.
But of course she can’t get ahold of her sister, who is later found laying on a beach, having been raped, and beaten into a coma. So finally Klara has something to do while on patrol: detective work. Her co-workers keep finding her, like, sneaking behind gates and stuff. And going back to the night club during the day and demanding to look at security footage. They have no idea what this lady is up to, but it’s not her job.
She gets a photo of the guy Tania left with, who the detective investigating the case, Captain Muller (Carole Weyers, EARTH AND BLOOD), identifies as Yvan Kadnikov (Andrey Gorlenko), entitled rich boy because he’s the son of Russian “tech genius” Leonod Kadnikov (Michel Nabokoff). It’s gonna take her a while to do anything because they have diplomatic immunity. (See also: LETHAL WEAPON 2: THE BEST LETHAL WEAPON.)
It’s not real complicated. She tracks the fucker to the dance club, holds a knife to his throat in the men’s room, has to fight his entourage. I enjoy a good public restroom fight. This one does not fulfill my dream of having the hero wash their hands thoroughly when they’re done, but it does a very good job of taunting you by showing these sleek black urinals many times before finally, near the end of the fight, doing the right thing and breaking one off with a guy’s head.
She goes after him again at his dad’s villa, fights the dad’s bodyguards, but the dad tells her this brilliant Matlock shit: his son couldn’t have done it because his son is gay. And also because he did it. He brags about it. Then his big power move is to get a phone call and say “I have to take this,” like a bad boyfriend in a romcom. This scene has maybe my favorite fight move in the movie – this guy is basically waterboarding her, dunking her head into a bathtub, and she does like a jiujitsu-type move that flips him over into the tub with her on top of him, back to him, elbowing him in the head.
And then she leaps out and there’s a cool slow motion shot of her running, drenched, and without hesitation she leaps off a balcony into a swimming pool to escape.
When her sister wakes up from the coma she understandably doesn’t want to go through a trial against a Russian tycoon. This is very upsetting to justice-hungry Klara, but not as upsetting as when her sister has an embolism.
She realizes that a woman in scrubs rushed past her right before it happened, so she runs and catches up to the person (played by stunt woman Melissa Humler – thank you Olyphantastic for identifying her for me) and actually this is the highlight of the movie, a nasty brawl in a storage room. This woman appears a little burlier than twiggy Kurylenko, but it’s really well choreographed to make them seem evenly matched at least in tenacity, throwing each other into so many shelves and piles of equipment, bashing each other with various objects, and Klara manages an absolutely brutal counter to the woman trying to stab her with a shard of broken tile. The stunt coordinator is Jérôme Gaspard, who subsequently did incredible work on ATHENA. I believe he also plays the bodyguard in the bath tub fight.
At this point Klara decides the only thing to do is go to work, steal a bunch of weapons and then go perform a straight up massacre at the rapist’s villa. I think it’s interesting that she’s basically abandoning her career and life to do this vigilante thing, but she chooses to wear her full uniform to do it. Makes me think of Tommy Lee Jones in ROLLING THUNDER. Plus she’s all kitted out with all her gear and shit, some of which is obviously useful for going on a kill crazy rampage, but it struck me how ridiculous it looks too, and I think it’s a form of insecurity. It makes her feel like she’s going into combat, but wouldn’t it be more useful to be able to move freely? And, to quote I’M GONNA GIT YOU SUCKA, how does she go to the bathroom with all that shit on?
That sequence reminds me of the ending of HARD TO KILL, in that she’s more like a slasher than an action hero, sneaking in and murdering each of the people she comes across. But it’s more brutal because it doesn’t have the part where the police show up and talk her into backing down and letting the justice system do its thing. However, Leonid somehow survives being kicked over a ledge, so we cut to three months later when he’s living it up in Dubai, and you can guess what happens. (One thing that would improve this movie would be if he survived three or four different horrible attacks and it kept saying “three months later” and going to different exotic locations for her to try again.)
This seems like a Noomi Rapace movie with less personality, but that’s not an insult. There’s something to be said for Kurylenko’s more stoic, minimalistic approach. I really liked her in this, and I know she’s been making a go of this action star thing, so I think I’ll check out some more of her movies.
I know Leclercq has a couple other ones that are supposed to be good. I liked THE BOUNCER (also known as LUKAS), which is kind of a dour noir with a good, grimacing performance from Jean-Claude Van Damme in serious actor mode. And it’s been so long, but I think I kinda liked THE ASSAULT, a true story about a hijacking. I think it’s cool that even while keeping that serious tone he’s moved into more straight ahead genre shit like this one. None of that “based on actual events” fake import is needed. Badass shit is encouraged. Next time you’re in the market for some quick, simple, violent entertainment, maybe look this one up.
February 21st, 2023 at 9:26 am
My kids were boosting this one, but what with not having the Netflix, I’ve missed it so far. I didn’t care much for THE COURIER (2019, not the Cumberbatch joint), but what it does have going for it is Kurylenko, who gives off the right degree of commitment and intensity that you never question how she could mix it with those heavy heavies. HIGH HEAT, with Kurylenko as a chef with a particular set of knife skills and a marriage to Don Johnson, looks like it could be fun. Although, I’d maybe be more excited about Rapace’s forthcoming ASSASSIN CLUB, were it not for the alarm bells being set off by Henry Golding being billed as the star.
Also, while I may not subscribe to the conventional wisdom about movies being too long now, I do think bringing excellence in at under 90 minutes these days is increasingly rare.
Also, also if I did have Netflix, I’d probably be glad to know they weren’t pissing my subscription away on poster design, but as it is that poster above is garbage. I know it’s a common complaint that Netflix really don’t care about promoting their movies, but really!