Survivor (2015): Milla Jovovich Versus Pierce Brosnan

Pierce Brosnan is Nash, aka The Watchmaker
Directed byJames McTeigue from a screenplay by Philip Shelby, Survivor features a more than capable cast. Milla Jovovich (Resident Evil, The Perfect Get Away), Pierce Brosnan, Robert Forster, Frances de la Tour (who recently featured as the giant in the 2014 Disney film Into the Woods) and a group of brilliant talent that included James D’Arcy, Dylan McDermottAntonia Thomas, to name but a few. Survivor could be seen as a sort of advertisement for anti-terrorism, a throwback to the days of McCarthy-ism perhaps, where all non-American’s are immediately suspect, and not a few US citizens are up to no good as well. 

Certainly the film does show the abject paranoia that has gripped the government since 9/11 and it also shows that regardless of whether you work for the British  or the US government, guilt is immediately presumed before it is proven. The film also shows just how slowly and ineffectually both government’s security departments move. Like a rusty wheel, the mechanism is stiff and hard to run.

Jovovich is the newest addition to the American Embassy in London, Kate Abbott. She is a high flying security officer who has a sterling reputation. Her immediate boss, Bill Talbot (Forster) is not overly pleased to have her on board but the “big boss” Sam Parker (McDermott) is glad that she is on his team. When one of the visa team flag a request from Dr. Emil Balan (Roger Rees) Kate steps in to investigate. Bill attempts to intervene but the visa is denied. 

Balan complains to his superiors who bring immediate pressure on the Embassy, Kate and Sam to clear the Doctor. Paul Anderson (D’Arcy) is an officious prig who tries to bully the Embassy into clearing the medico. As Abbott attempts to find out who is behind Balan, she discovers that Talbot has a record of passing dubious visa requests.

As the visa team go to celebrate Bill’s birthday, professional assassin “The Watchmaker” aka Nash (Brosnan) kills the team, but Kate survives. Thus begins the cat and mouse game where it seems that Nash’s side hold all the advantages and Kate’s paranoid and frightened bosses are all too ready to give their new security chief up.

Jovovich fills the shoes of a security chief with ease and shows just enough know-how and tenacity that her battles with the minions of terror all feel real and possible. Brosnan as bad guy works very well, taking a step back from his non-Bond spy in The November Man.  (And an even further one from his old Bond days or Remington Steele ones.)

Survivor will not set heart’s racing or cause the viewer’s adrenaline to surge, but the storyline is solid enough and there are enough twists and turns to make the film entertaining. There are the usual complaints associated with any film that uses London as a location. The underground is never that clean or void of graffiti and the streets are not that litter free. As the action starts off in, and plays mostly in, London it is also doubtful that McDermott’s character would be allowed to run around the streets of the capital with a gun.

The plot is not quite a “by the numbers” set piece but there is just enough reliance upon on stereotypes that it does feel awfully close to a standard spy film. Director McTeigue may talk about “hiding” his political messages in the films he makes but in Survivor the point he is trying to make may as well be painted in neon colors.

Still, unhidden messages aside, the film is entertaining, albeit frustrating as one really does feel that Ambassador Crane (Angela Bassett) was a tad too ready to throw the baby out with the bathwater and label her former protege a traitor/terrorist. Jovovich, as usual, is a joy to watch. This woman works hard to make whatever role she plays feel real and her Kate Abbott is no exception.

McDermott is also believable; another actor who oozes a sense of reality in any part he plays. Survivor is a solid 3.5 out of 5 stars and is streaming on US Netflix at the moment. Good spy fare, despite the “warning/pronouncement” at the end about how many terrorists the US government have caught since 9/11.

Automata (2014): Evolution of a Different Sort

Film poster for Automata
Directed and co-written by Gabe Ibáñez and starring Antonio Banderas, the 2014 film Automata takes the ideology behind I Robot and makes it darker; the result of a different sort of evolution. Set in a Dystopian future where mankind has shrunk to just a few million survivors on an inhospitable Earth, the story follows one man’s investigation of an “impossible” crime. With shades of Blade Runner, the film has a protagonist that is not a cop but an insurance investigator, criminals that are not cyborgs but robots who have gone against their protocols and evolved.

Jacq Vaucan (Banderos) is a married man whose wife Rachel (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen) is heavily pregnant and an investigator that is fed up with his job and wants to be moved. His work consists of proving that the robots manufactured by ROC cannot be altered or perform against their protocols.

There are two protocols that each robot must adhere to. The first does not allow it to harm any living thing and the second does not allow it to alter or repair itself. A cop named Sean Wallace (Dylan McDermott) shoots and destroys a robot that he claims was repairing itself. The policeman, who was high on drugs at the time of the shooting, swears that he did not imagine the incident; that the machine altered itself right in front of him.

Robert Bold (Robert Forster) tells Vaucan that this is impossible and the investigator starts looking for someone who disabled the second protocol; a clocksmith. Jacq finds one, a Dr. DuPre (Melanie Griffith) but it turns out that she is not modifying the robots and she learns that it has happened “naturally.”

This film is very dark and brooding in its delivery and with its depiction of a future-earth burnt and dried out by solar flares. Automata does a brilliant job showing the fickle nature of mankind. In the backstory, humanity cheer the new “pilgrim” robots that were made to help “push back the desert.” When the machines fail, the same people who cheered them on turn and their praise becomes hate and disgust.

Similar to I Robot, the machines are part of everyday life although in the that film, the cities are clean and full of successful, happy people. In Automata , like Blade Runner, the towns are dirty, full of acid rain, the unemployed, worn-out robots and is segregated from the ghetto, which is “out of bounds” to the city dwellers.

While the message is bleak, for mankind at least, the robots seem to be the future. Banderas acts his little cotton socks off in the film and his performance alone is worth the “price of admission” as they say. Griffith has a small role and while she still has the chops to impress, it is her character’s outcome that is remembered best. Shocking and sudden, it sticks in the mind and fits this future of grim reality.

Kudos to two favorite Brit actors who have worked together before, although they do not share any real screen time here, Tim McInnerny and Andy Nyman. The actors appeared in the 2006 horror film Severance and it was a delight to see them in this film. McInnerny as the long dust coat-wearing killer for ROC and Nyman as the partner of Wallace, the drug addict cop. Both actors can play “Yanks” quite convincingly.

Oh, and Keep an ear out for Javier Bardem as the “blue” robot.

Automata is streaming on Netflix at the moment and is a real 5 out of 5 stars film. This one, as they say, is a keeper and should become a cult favorite if it has not done so already. Watch this one you will be glad you did.