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Thursday, September 15, 2011

Colombiana

After a couple of very uneventful weeks at the cinema, we finally have a bunch of new major films to check out. Are they any good, though? Well, that's a whole other question...

Also up at Channel24


What it's about

After seeing both her parents gunned down before her as a young child, a young woman goes on a murderous rampage to enact revenge on those guilty for her parents' death.

What we thought

Following in the footsteps of Ripley, Buffy and, most recently, Hanna, Zoe Saldana's Cataleya is the latest in a line of female (anti-) heroes that are part “Grrrl Power” feminist figures, part ruthless ass-kickers and part fully-rounded, very human characters. She is also, unfortunately, the only truly noteworthy thing in what is otherwise a perfectly competent but dreadfully generic revenge thriller.

Director Olivier Megaton certainly doesn't shy away from playing up Ms. Saldana's obvious sexiness but she's far too compellingly convincing as both a take-no-prisoners action hero and as a deeply damaged young woman to ever descend into cheap, exploitative eye-candy. Zoe Saldana is simply very, very good in the role – so good, in fact, that she not only elevates the film but also shines a spotlight on the major flaws in the rest of the production.


Earlier this year, Joe Wright's rather overlooked Hanna came out and, though it may not have been perfect, it went some way towards breathing new life into so well-worn a genre as the revenge thriller. It was a fresh, punky reinvention of the genre's conventions and it looks all the more revolutionary when held up against something like Colombiana. In a year when a film like Hanna is released, Colombiana, with its throwback style and its extraordinary ordinariness, simply isn't good enough.

Which is not to say that Colombiana is a terrible film. It isn't. It may have a truly terrible title but, beyond Saldana's top-notch work, it does exactly what it says on the tin, with a strong sense of pace and a director who brings his experiences on films like The Transporter 3 and various European thrillers to bear on some effective action scenes.

None of that changes, however, the sense that we have been here before and we have been here often. You can tell precisely – almost eerily so – what's going to happen in the rest of the film after watching its first five minutes. There isn't a surprise, revelation or unexpected twist to be found and, for all of its solid action set pieces and efficient-enough storytelling, it can't help but be a little boring.

Beyond that, there is also the question of tone. Revenge stories can play out either through a trashy-but-fan aesthetic of a brainless action film or as a darker, more introspective look at how the quest for revenge torments the person seeking vengeance. They can take both routes but it requires a certain deftness to balance the fatuous silliness of the former with the earnest seriousness of the latter. Though Colombiana obviously shoots more for the first camp than the second by being an action film with a few small character bits thrown in for good measure, Zoe Saldana's performance is so convincing that it makes us far more interested in the more dramatic moments than we were presumably supposed to be.

The ultimate result is a film that is not only overly familiar but is too frivolous as a character study and simply not fun enough as a full-on action flick. Saldana makes the film worth watching and it is a diverting enough couple of hours but you would be better off waiting for Hanna to hit DVD if you're looking for one revenge film to watch this year.



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