The Wire star is Malcolm Gray, a member of an elite Black Ops unit whose team are overpowered and captured in a stylish pre-credit opening sequence. The rest of the action then takes place in a grubby Brooklyn hotel room where the now-freed Gray is holed up. Mentally and physically scarred from his time in captivity, he’s a changed man from his earlier incarnation as a gleefully aggressive soldier, and in an attempt to atone for past indiscretions, begins compiling evidence and recording video journals in which he places blame of his team’s double-cross on that of his ambitious, hard-line senator brother (Eamonn Walker).
As he begins to receive visitors from his past (including this brother’s wife, with whom he was previously involved with) his already fragile state of mind begins to get the better of him, as his paranoid and guilt-ridden behaviour manifests itself in increasingly distorted ways and actions.
First and foremost, don’t be put off by the film’s DVD cover art and title, both of which conjure up images of the kind of DTV dreck which the likes of Steven Seagal seem to crank out on an almost monthly basis. In reality this is extremely well-acted (in particular by Elba) character piece, made up of a cast of well-respected US TV imports (alongside ER’s Walker, Elba’s co-star from old Baltimore stomping ground, Clarke Peters (aka Lester Freamon) puts in a brief yet memorable appearance as Gray’s commander.
Young British writer-director Thomas Ikimi (clearly working with a limited budget) makes the best of a mostly single location. There is a real fluidity to the camerawork and a confidence behind the lens which elevates the material beyond what could have been a very stagy and dramatically-flat production. The film’s claustrophobic setting really works in its favour, and allows Elba (who is also credited as executive producer) the opportunity to showcase his considerable talents. With a body seemingly covered from head toe in scars from his abduction, his jittery mannerisms and wiry demeanour present a very real and credible portrait of a man on the edge of sanity. His unhinged behaviour frequently calls into question what’s real and what isn’t in the confines of his room, and that ambiguity is the central hook for the audience.
Ikimi can’t resist throwing in a couple of scenes which perhaps tip the film into unnecessary high-octane action territory. A knife-to-knife combat scene mid-way through, while well-choreographed, looks like it’s been lifted from a Bourne feature and seems a little out of place. This is a minor quibble however, and given the temptation there may have been to ramp up the action and melodrama further, the director manages to keeps things on a relatively grounded level.
Legacy: Black Ops received a tiny cinema release before heading to DVD, but compared to the number of dull big screen titles currently clogging up the multiplexes, it’s a shame that its core audience will only see it on DVD. There has been much time, thought and craftsmanship gone into this film which elevates it above and beyond its humble budget and settings and on the strength of what’s on offer here, Ikimi has a bright future ahead of him.