January, action and 90-minute running times. Just a few of my favorite things. After weeks of mulling over prestige products as we enter Oscar season, spending time with Noomi Rapace in Netflix’s bodyguard thriller ‘Close’, was a welcome reprieve for aficionados of the genre, even if the film itself isn’t breaking new grounds.
It doesn’t take long for the bullets start flying in ‘Close’. The film opens with Sam (Rapace) working protection for two pressmen on assignment in South Sudan. En route to wherever they are attacked by insurgents, but Sam remains cold as ice as bullets and blood start flying. She cleverly dispatches her attackers with ruthless efficiency, and we are sold on her being very good at her job.
It’s apt that we don’t know where they are heading when they set off from a small village in an SUV. Sam is probably only concerned with keeping clients alive as long she must. But when her next job sees her tasked with safely escorting the young heiress to a major oil company to her step-mother in Morocco, Sam’s baggage slowly simmers to the surface as this script showcases layer seldom seen in action films.
Directed by Vicky Jewson, ‘Close’ is also concerned with strained mother-daughter bonds. That the teenage heiress, Zoe (Sophie Nélisse) has just been handed control of the oil company, after her father’s death, is another notch in her rocky relationship with her step-mom, Rima (Indira Varma), who was the CEO of the company. It certainly doesn’t help that Zoe is as spoiled and insolent as they come.
Their fragile relationship is put to the test when Sam’s final night on protection duty is marred by assailants who break into Rima’s mini-fort looking to Kidnap Zoe. Sam earns her keep by outmaneuvering the attackers and going on the run with Zoe, seeking refuge in Casablanca where more killers, corruption and fears of betrayal await.
It would have been too on the nose if Zoe were a child as the film prods at Sam’s own maternal history in an attempt to humanise her. Her decision to continue protecting Zoe after her contract runs out is purely a moral one, weighted against seeming abandonment by Rima, who is more concerned with her company’s stocks. For reasons that will become clearer, it feels like this Sam is taking her first steps towards redemption with her time spent with Zoe.
None of this film’s best beats are fully crystalised; be it convincing us that Sam is running from something in her past or the idea the bond the bodyguard and her subject find amid turbulence - bond they have rebuffed or been denied all their lives. Jewson seems more concerned with keeping the thriller moving and she doesn’t earn the emotional codas she arrives at. It doesn’t help that a lot of Zoe’s dialogue is grating at times and her arc is as basic as they come, unless you count the fact she turns out to be a decent hacker.
Rapace convinces as an action lead, setting the tone by having her face speckled with cuts from the opening sequence throughout the film. Jewson prioritises relative grit over overwhelming flair in the makeup of Sam, who is based on renowned bodyguard Jacquie Davis, who's worked protection for high profile clients like the British royal family.
Some of ‘Close’s few action scenes shy away from the kinetic, favoring brutal brawls – probably the function of a tight budget. Our director remains grounded in her visual sense and only really flexes in a beautiful underwater sequence where Sam fights off an attacker as some quietly menacing fish swirl around them.
There is also a level of invention at play that presents a few vicious kills and bouts of violence in noticeably confined spaces. Even the aforementioned sequence underwater feels cramped as the swarm of spectating fishes creates some unexpected claustrophobia.
Though Jewson doesn't fully sink her teeth into the emotional core of the less than stellar script and undervalues the potential depth Rima could have brought, 'Close' is still a solid piece of filmmaking that proves this director may be ready for a step up and also reminds us that Rapace isn't far off from a break that lands her an iconic action role.