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.

Battle Royale (2000): The Original Hunger Games

Set in the future, Battle Royale is a law that has been passed by the Japanese government. The law allows for a lottery process which picks a random class of ninth grade school children. This class is then flown to an island, given numbers and are issued with two bags. One bag contains water, food, a compass and a map. The other bag can contain a weapon or a “booby prize” like toilet paper or a pot lid for example. After receiving their bags the children are released onto the island and told that they must kill each other off. There can be only one survivor or winner. The results are followed by the media and the winner is mobbed by reporters at the end of the game.

In order to insure that there is only one winner, each student is fitted with an explosive collar which their  Battle Royale instructor demonstrates with  curiosity and amusement. The collar can be used the kill students who stray from established “kill zones” and anyone who attempts to cheat the game out of it’s required solo survivor.

Based on the novel by  Koushun Takami  (published in 1999) this film was roundly criticized in Japan when it was released. Condemned as being too violent and focussing on school children killing each other.  The film’s tag line was “Could You Kill Your Best Friend?”

Directed by  Kinji Fukasaku when he was sixty-nine years old, Battle Royale is nothing short of a masterpiece. Of all the forty-two “school children”  most had never acted before, one – Tarô Yamamoto wasn’t even a young teen, he was twenty-nine years old and an established actor. Kinji had a brilliant rapport with the mostly  inexperienced cast, getting the most out of them.

There were some members of the young cast that were professional actors,  Tatsuya Fujiwara (Shuya Nanahara) – who is perhaps best known for the Death Note films,   Aki Maeda (Noriko Nakagawa),  Chiaki Kuriyama (Takako Chigusa) better known for playing  Gogo Yubari in Kill Bill Vol 1, and Tarô Yamamoto, mentioned above as Shôgo Kawada .  Both Fujiwara and Maeda won awards as best newcomers after working in the films.

The games are overseen by the military and the ninth grader’s old teacher, Kitano-sensei. Kitano is played by the iconic multi-talented Japanese actor Takeshi Kitano aka Beat Takeshi. Kitano is huge in Japan and has quite a following worldwide. He started as a comedian but moved into acting with the film Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence (1983). Kitano’s being  cast as the children’s old teacher was pure genius as his dead-pan delivery and still face, punctuated with nervous tic’s, help make him both a kind and stern character, one that we like immediately.

This film was destined to become a classic, it has a devoted world wide fan-base . Battle Royale and it’s sequel Battle Royale II have a film website. These ‘film sites’ and other websites have provided Battle Royale themed merchandise for the many fans.

Kinji masterfully got the actors  to project the mixed emotions, reactions, and motivations of the students forced to kill each other. Disbelief, denial, excitement, anger, reluctant participation and subterfuge just to name a few. Three students are very active participants in the battle. Mitsuko played by Kou Shibasaki kills her opponents with a mixture of deceit and deadly savagery. Kou impressed Quentin Tarantino so much with her performance, that she was who he originally wanted to play GoGo in Kill Bill Vol 1. Shôgo Kawada is one of two ‘ringers’  brought in from outside the ninth grade class. Kawada is a winner from a previous Royale and is methodical and cool.  Kazuo Kiriyama is the other outsider. He is nothing short of terrifying. Kiriyama, who volunteered to play the game, is a homicidal machine, cold and deadly he very much enjoys the killing.

The film follows all the students to a degree, but the main protagonists are Shuya Nanahara and Noriko Nakagawa. These two band together and vow to survive the game that they have been forced into. Shuya is a very reluctant participant in the killings and stays with Noriko  to help her. These two then bump into Kawada when Noriko falls ill and Shuya tries to help her. After Kawada helps Noriko the three form an alliance and work to find a solution that will see them all ‘win’ the game.

Battle Royale is a masterpiece. The screenplay was written by the directors son Kenti Fukasaku and he deserves full credit for adapting the book. He managed to lose a lot of the political statements that were in the book, which could  have slowed the film down.  The film contains many scenes and images that have become almost iconic in cinema. Chigusa’s track suit with it’s yellow and orange colour scheme was reproduced in the film Kill Bill as the outfit that ‘the bride’ wears in both volumes. Also keep an eye out for the lighthouse scene, it contains one of best cinematic shoot outs in the history of cinema.

If there could be only one  world cinema film that I could suggest that is a must see, Battle Royale is that film, hands down.