The beginning of Close establishes a tonally inconsistent product that never materializes. Following an abbreviated opener that introduces Naomi Rapace’s quick-witted and resourceful bodyguard Sam Carlson protecting a young woman from the vague threat of middle-eastern insurgents, Director Vicky Jewson then transitions into a Daniel Kleinman inspired Bond-esque opening, involving evocative flashing patterns set to a melodic pop single sung by a sultry woman. There are no martinis, bad puns, or unnecessary shags in Jewson’s new thriller, but it might make it stand out more in the grand scheme of things if it was as mockable as a James Bond film. Even in its most off-base moments, you’ve seen this before.
The nearest trait Close has to outlying characteristics are its female director and interest in telling a story propelled by a rounded collection of women. Some are spoiled, some are competent, and some are tough, but all are united by a natural draw towards motherhood or a need to be protected. Rapace’s Sam Carlson separates herself from her professional and personal colleagues by putting up an impenetrable shield brought on by the loss of her child; Zoe Tanner (Sophie Nélisse), the heiress to a thriving business, is perpetually helpless to bad decisions because of her father’s passing. When Carlson is hired to protect Tanner, they both find solace and progression by the end when they conform to their roles as mother and mostly helpless daughter respectively.
Discounting this assessment of the film’s status as problematic progressive entertainment, the drama is still stale. Arcs are completed with dispassion, as dramatic scenes of two people talking at each other in a room are separated by two set pieces and a chase sprinkled. Drama is perpetually separated from the action and vice versa. When Tanner discovers Carlson’s backstory in the final 15 minutes of the film, she illogically accuses her of being a liar: “You shut people out. I’ve never been able to trust anyone. I thought you were different.” Her self-awareness does not come at a moment of clarity, nor does it prove to be a characteristic that tells of Tanner’s introspective side. This on-the-nose style litters the script, telling the viewers in the most distant back rows the protagonist’s most discernible traits.
Perhaps this structure is for the best, as the emotional core never has the chance to interrupt the film’s primary saving reprieve. When Close is stabbing, shooting, and sprinting around the grim and gritty middle east with a clear and competent eye for action, the film doesn’t necessarily have a flavor of its own, but it doesn’t feel nearly as stale. Realistic action is not hard to come by today, especially on Netflix. The set piece underwater and a number of knife fights violently pass the time, but so what? It’s not as though every film has a “reason to exist,” but what does this film bring to the table beyond adding to the pile of contemporary action that portrays the middle east as the easily identifiable “bad guy,” the Russia of the 21st century?
In the hands of thespians, this material could be powerful and mundane. If given to actors as flat as the writing, it would be unwatchable. With Rapace and Nélisse in the roles, it becomes presentable. The two have a natural lack of chemistry, which is not a complaint. Some distance from each other’s personalities makes them feel more involved and real. There is a focus on stress towards the female body. Both leads sweat, bleed, and pant through the desert in a manner more convincing and physically honest than most other blockbusters care to be. The strain on their bodies makes the environment feel more exhausting. Almost all of this can be attributed to two leads that display no vanity or concern about looking glamorous or ugly; one can only hope that this attitude is adopted by more Hollywood stars.
Most realistic, militaristic cinema tends to hover around a torturous two hours and fifteen minutes in length, as they attempt to make a tone-deaf point about the role and tole of the west in the middle east. The short length of 95 minutes highlights where Close stands in the genre. It does not have the pretension to frame its action as a commentary on American foreign influence, nor does it become schlock that asks viewers to engage in the propulsive bombast of a set piece to set piece spectacle. It fits little into a short running time, much like most instantly forgettable genre entries.
Close does very little that stands out or makes it particularly memorable wasting a pair of decent performances from its leads