Reviewed for Shockya.com by Abe Friedtanzer
Director: Martin Campbell
Writer: Richard Wenk
Cast: Michael Keaton, Maggie Q, and Samuel L. Jackson, with Robert Patrick
Screened at: Critics’ link, LA, 7/27/21
Opens: August 20th, 2021
Those who spend their lives hunting and killing other people aren’t likely to find bliss and peace. For one thing, it’s difficult to retire from a career where being the one holding the gun rather than facing it is crucial, and it’s also often the case that employers don’t want to let their best assets go off and enjoy the rest of their lives. More likely, it’s only a matter of time before a skilled assassin ends up on someone else’s list as a target and must fight to remain alive and, naturally, seek revenge. That’s the gist of the new action film The Protégé, which knows exactly what it wants to be.
Anna (Maggie Q) works as a contract killer, rescued from a bloodbath in Vietnam as a child and trained by Moody (Samuel L. Jackson). Moonlighting as a dealer of rare books, Anna must use her training to stay one step ahead of her pursuers when Moody is taken out. As she begins to uncover the scope of what she’s facing, she meets the mysterious Rembrandt (Michael Keaton), who seems interested in her romantically but is also clearly connected to the vast network of powerful people who don’t want Anna to survive.
This film knows how to cast its principal actors, and they bring with them a career of roles that have prepared them extensively to play these characters. Q has appeared in numerous action films and starred in the CW version of Nikita. Jackson recently headlined The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard and has established a reputation of overconfidence and incredible skill that often makes him the welcome comic relief in any project. And Keaton is a chameleon, someone capable of putting on any skin and making it intriguing, sharing only brief clues as to his characters’ real identities and motivations.
There’s more than enough action here even in just the opening minutes of the film to indicate what’s coming over the course of the next almost two hours. There’s blood and gore, and even though it’s hardly sparing, it doesn’t feel too excessive because it mostly comes from those who are clearly bad people and have in some way invited their fates, at least in the universe of this film. The stunt work and effects are also more than competent, providing an immersive experience that travels an expected but still satisfying route.
What works best here is that there’s not an overdependence on what might be described as plot holes or inconsistencies, and that’s mainly due to the readiness of the actors to dive into their roles and not worry about what might not track. That’s particularly true of the dynamic between Anna and Rembrandt, who almost seem to enjoy the positions in which they find themselves, eager to continue dueling physically and verbally rather than simply end the game with just one of them left standing.
Director Martin Campbell has a good deal of experience helming action movies, including two well-received James Bond entries, GoldenEye and Casino Royale. While he certainly has a genre he prefers, as does writer David Wenk, known for The Equalizer and other franchise action films, it’s one that delivers what audiences seem to want, an engaging, involving ride fully aware of when it’s being over-the-top and unconcerned with those optics. It’s a proven formula that is made ready to entertain, and this particular trip is just as good an opportunity to indulge as any.
Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – B+
Overall – B