Headshot

2 out of 5

Directed by: Kimo Stamboel and Timo Tjahjanto

A bloodied-up, unsympathetic spin on The Bourne concept – amnesiac ‘Ishamel’ (Iko Uwais) cues into the fact that he’s a badass trained killer when a league of former associates are dispatched to take him out – Headshot admirably tries to balance out its martial arts horror sequences with a story, and then interestingly succeeds more at the latter than the former.  Unfortunately, the former is the greater focus of the film, meaning it drags when it shouldn’t, and topped by a rather overly-animated directorial style, it dilutes the effectiveness of its expert choreography.

Certainly picking up cues from The Raid‘s Gareth Evans, who also of course worked with Uwais, Headshot directors Kimo Stamboel and Timo Tjahjanto do the 360 degree spinning bit, the camera tilting on an axis to follow falls and body slams, and the dropped frames to speed up the action.  But they add to this some (digitally added?) camera shakiness to imply, it would seem, “grit,” as well as some admirable but often distractingly applied changeups in camera placement, i.e. letting us zoom in on a particular expression or pause in the movement before pulling back out to return to the brawl.  The shakiness is just obnoxious, obfuscating our ability to follow all the jabbery and kickery, and the focus bit is similar, giving us a pause for breath but often leaving the camera on something that pulls us out of the scene; both immersion breaking elements, for sure.  There’s also a weird hurry-up-and-wait sense to the pacing, that just doesn’t allow the film to fully take advantage of what should be some great fighting set pieces, notably a cramped bus sequence that, for all of the reasons above, ends up falling flat.  Amidst more entertaining action, I could also be forgiving of the digital gunfire and the cartoonish excess of bullets it takes to (not) put someone down, but it’s another drop in the “let’s make this really hardcore!” bucket.

Some moments, thankfully, do work, and generally it’s when there are no other distractions: no promising set pieces, no guns, etc.  Just letting Uwais and the rest of the skilled martial artists do their thing, fast and furious.  And when some of these same tricks are applied to a non-fighting sequence – such as a prison escape later on – they’re very effective, as they properly capture a sense of rushed unease.

The story, while just a vehicle for getting us from fight to fight, is strong, conceptually, and during some spotted dramatic moments, well scripted and acted.  The movie tips its hand a too early on Ishmael’s background, sort of sucking out the momentum and thus requiring a dissolution into damsel-in-distress theatrics, but the background is nonetheless interesting, and offers Uwais the chance to show off some legit acting chops, especially alongside Chelsea Islan, playing the doctor who’s been treating him.  (Y’know, for thirty seconds until thugs bust in and start with the fighting.)

Timo Tjahjanto would very much improve on his direction with followup flick The Night Comes for Us, although that was rather lacking in story.  So somewhere inbetween the two movies – balancing grisly brawls with a narrative to prop up two hour runtimes – there lies a potentially awesome flick.  Until then, Headshot is unfortunately an amateur entry, mixed in its attempts to piece together those story and action halves.