In 1948, making a film of the stage play Rope, Alfred Hitchcock decided to try to make it appear as though the action took place in a single take. At that time, the technology didn’t exist to allow him to actually achieve this and so every ten minutes the viewer will notice a zoom on a static object, something that will allow Hitchcock to dissolve and link to the next ten minute take.
In almost 75 years, technology has advanced much further. Today, cameras allow for shooting entire features in a single take and editing has advanced to a point that transitions needn’t be the slow, awkward moments seen in Rope, meaning that films like Birdman and 1917, while shot in multiple takes over many days, can appear to be a single shot.
One Shot is a real time action film that finds Jake (Scott Adkins) and his Navy SEAL team dispatched to help CIA agent Zoe (Ashley Greene) transfer a suspected terrorist (Waleed Elgadi) who may have time sensitive information about a dirty bomb in Washington DC out of a terrorist internment camp. Just as they pick him up, the team is attacked by a massive wave of terrorists, determined to get their man before Jake can.
Last year, there was an action film—Crazy Samurai: 400 Vs 1—that, for about 70 minutes of its running time, was genuinely captured in a single take. All that demonstrated was how terrible an idea shooting an action movie like that was. It’s a boringly choreographed mess which clearly only had about fifteen stuntmen at any one time, and often showed them rolling out of frame after being ‘killed’. You can understand, given that example, why One Shot’s single take construction is stitched together. On a technical level, it’s not too bad. The budget is visibly low, and the setting of the Guantanamo like camp clearly a tiny piece of land which has to be extended with clever use of camera. However, director James Nunn (also behind Tower Block and Adkins starrers Green Street 3 and Eliminators) just about gets away with both that and, as with Crazy Samurai, what must be a rotating cast of stuntmen playing terrorists. The joins in the shot aren’t too glaring, so the real time and in the moment feel does come off.
Unfortunately, the film plays to it star’s weaknesses. Scott Adkins is great at what he does, and what he does is punch and kick people. I enjoy his movies, but it’s rare that he’s shown any real ability to stretch as an actor (Avengement is perhaps the closest he’s come to any proper character work). The problem here is that you want Adkins to be doing intricate and brutal martial arts, but for 95 percent of the running time he, and everyone else, is wielding a gun. The action begins about ten minutes in, and rarely lets up thereafter. In theory that’s great, but in reality, because it’s all shooting and Nunn is no John Woo, it quickly becomes deadening.
With only a few scant minutes to lay out the basic plot, there is no room for character, so when someone is injured or dies, it means nothing. The film starts in the helicopter on the way to the camp. It feels as though writer Jamie Russell is trying to echo the sequence of Predator in which we get to know the team, but he forgets to give any of them a discernible personality (and the sound is abominable in this scene, though happily it improves as soon as the cast aren’t talking into headset mics). Along with the sometimes awkward camerawork that needs to accommodate the single take look, this lack of investment and the repetitive nature of the choreography makes the action less than engaging.
The acting is perfunctory. Adkins does his ropey American accent, while the other bigger names—Ashley Greene and Ryan Phillippe—phone it in (or literally Skype it in in one scene for Phillippe). Nobody is bad, indeed with some actual nuance to play I can imagine a version of this film in which Waleed Elgadi gives an interesting performance and plays with your sympathies. The screenplay simply doesn’t give the cast the tools to do more than get through the beats.
Things do pick up a little in the last fifteen minutes, as Adkins shoots and (finally, blessedly) punches his way through a frankly implausible amount of terrorists. It’s easily the best action in the film, because it’s the most focused. It’s a pity there are only two extended hand to hand fights, but they are solidly done.
There’s the spark of a decent movie here, but it needs several more drafts to get us to care, and a larger budget to entirely pull off its gimmick.
One Shot will be available on Sky Cinema and NOW from the 29th of January, 2022.