Putting up “based on a true story” over the opening credits and then later on including a scene where Jason Statham throws himself out of a first floor window while still tied to a chair is going to test the credulity of most, yet the book on which this film is based, The Feather Men by Ranulph Fiennes, maintains its claims to veracity, with Fiennes appearing as a character towards the end of the film. Given its murky politics of covert SAS missions to Oman and apparent efforts by the British Government to secure favourable deals on Middle Eastern oil reserves, it is perhaps no surprise to find all official sources denying that this has any factual basis, which does tend to add to the appeal of what might otherwise be a highly disposable action thriller.
Statham is undoubtedly further outside his comfort zone than usual, though a role as a tough, all-action mercenary with aspirations for a quiet life is far from a big stretch. Owen is excellent as his antagonist, intelligent, strong, ferocious in a fight and more than a match for Statham’s predictably impressive physicality. De Niro is, as he has been for more than a decade, ticking along on auto-pilot, though he gives a believable performance as a veteran mercenary, fleshing out his dialogue scenes with depth and empathy and getting stuck into fist fights and gun battles with commendable gusto.
The truth is that films like Heat, Casino, Goodfellas, Raging Bull, Taxi Driver, The King of Comedy and The Godfather Part II are now a very long time ago indeed and since that matchless run of performances came to an end De Niro has given us The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, Shark Tale and Little Fockers. For whatever reason he seems to now be in a coasting phase, which is as baffling as it is frustrating, given that he can surely not have lost the talent he previously had.
The plot is a good deal more convoluted than is set out above, eventually involving a number of false finishes and crosses, which in the end becomes more than the film can bear. Complicated plots are, of course, not a problem in and of themselves, however a seemingly throwaway, formulaic thriller simply cannot carry the weight of all of the international intrigue thrust upon it and towards the end of its over-long running time it begins to drag, weighed down by its own sense of import. Although the director Gary McKendry is trying his hand at a feature film for the first time here, he shows no signs of nerves in the face of such an experienced and accomplished cast. The pace sags at times and the “it’s not over yet” moments wear a little, however the action sequences are capably directed and even straightforward dialogue scenes are shot with a measure of imagination and creativity. The story is set in 1980 and the cars, clothes and hairstyles are all as they should be, with plenty of commendable attention to realistic props.
In the end though, the film does not coalesce into a satisfying whole. There are great sequences (Danny and Hunter taking out a target in the pre-credits prologue, Danny and Spike getting stuck into an enjoyably brutal punch up in a hospital, Danny and his crew taking over the controls of a lorry in order to cause a crash involving one of their targets), but nothing here ever really grabs the viewer. The acting is engaging enough, but with all of the blurry motives and subterfuge, it is hard to work out who to root for or care about. McKendry is clearly someone to watch for the future, though he needs and deserves better material than this. Owen and Statham can hold their heads up high, but in the end this falls short of the mark.
Extras: Very poor. A “Making Of” that includes everyone except The Stath and De Niro, waxing eloquent about what a pleasure everyone was to work with. Although it runs to the best part of 30 minutes, it becomes pretty repetitive even within that time-frame and is little more than an over-blown fluff piece. Even worse is the “interview” with Jason Statham, which consists of four snippets stitched together. It runs to a couple of minutes and consists of Statham looking uncomfortable and giving truncated answers. Hardly top-drawer use of the potential of the format. The Blu-ray transfer is pretty mediocre as well.