A little bit “Rambo,” a little bit “Kill Bill” and more than a little bit “La Femme Nikita” and its imitation, “Alias,” this film can best be summarized as follows: a private contractor operative employed by the United States kicks butt in many locations, taking time off in the middle to have her hair put in cornrows, with a slight storyline attached to keep us on her side.
Mixed martial arts champion Gina “Conviction” Carano has a strong screen presence as Mallory, a former Marine turned free-lancer working for a one-time boyfriend named Kenneth (Ewan McGregor). After the government client insists that she be assigned to a new mission in Dublin, Kenneth pushes her to go, assuring her that it will be simple and that her role will be secondary. She meets up with her handsome British counterpart (Michael Fassbender) and they pose as a married couple at a glamorous party. But Mallory’s approach is always the Reaganesque “trust but verify.” She is always on the alert, and so when it turns out that she is in danger, she is prepared. The rest of the movie is her single-mindedly knocking the lights out of anyone foolish enough to have done her wrong, less out of anger than sheer ruthless efficiency. She has a firm sense of justice but does not waste any energy on distractions like emotion. She works the odds and she works the problem.
The fight scenes are the reason for the film and they are well-staged in a variety of settings that allow Carano to show what she can dish out and what she can take. Director Steven Soderbergh wisely unravels the story a piece at a time to hold our interest in the sifting locales and allegiances. He lightly touches on some issues with contemporary resonance without taking us more than a few minutes away from the next beat-down. Mallory tells her story to the poor kid whose car she had to take on an escape and we see flashbacks of missions and encounters and it becomes clear why she is telling all of this to a random civilian. Soderbergh wisely surrounds his first-time leading lady with supremely capable actors including McGregor, Fassbender, Michael Douglas as a government official with an enormous American flag at his elbow, Michael Angarano as the guy who provides her getaway car and some on-the-move first-aid, and Bill Paxton as Mallory’s father. If Mallory’s confident, husky voice is in part due to electronic tweaking, it sounds natural and in character. Even in the midst fighting off a battalion of protective-gear-clad law enforcement officers, Carano has a businesslike confidence. And even when she is choking a man with her thighs or being chased through the woods, it is in aid of making the world a little less haywire.
Parents should know that this film has constant hand-to-hand fighting and some guns, with characters injured and killed, some graphic images, some strong language, drinking, smoking, and a non-explicit sexual situation.
Family discussion: How did Mal decide who she should trust? Why did Coblenz insist on having her assigned to the mission? What issues are raised by the government use of outside contractors? What evidence do we see of Mal’s ideas about justice and loyalty?
If you like this, try: “La Femme Nikita” and “Kill Bill”