BRIAN VINER reviews SAS – Red Notice

With killer gardeners, Hampstead Heath villains and some very grumpy Black Swans, this thriller is firing blanks: BRIAN VINER reviews SAS – Red Notice

SAS: Red Notice (15)


Verdict: A bit of a bomb

Silk Road (15)


Verdict: Flawed but watchable

The True Adventures Of Wolfboy (12)


Verdict: A charming fable

The measure of a really good thriller lies not just in the big stuff, such as plotting and dialogue; but also in the small details — and that’s where SAS: Red Notice trips a series of landmines.

Our hero is a lump of Special Forces beefcake called Tom Buckingham, played by Sam Heughan, who is riding high in the betting to be the next James Bond. 

Well, he has Connery’s virile physique, Craig’s disarming gaze and Dalton’s cleft chin, but he lacks Moore’s ability to make a bad line sound good. And there are lots of bad lines in SAS: Red Notice. 

Sam Heughan wrestles Ruby Rose as Grace Lewis. The film  is based on Andy McNab’s bestselling novel of the same name. McNab writes pacy, exciting thrillers that offer perfect ammunition for screen adaptations but, in this instance, someone has loaded blanks

‘Did Nana really love Grandpa?’ asks Tom of the family butler, during a fleeting return to the ancestral pile to collect a ring once cut off a maharajah’s finger, which he wishes to give to the love of his life, a doctor called Sophie (Hannah John-Kamen). You can’t imagine 007 saying that, even after a martini binge.

Still, there are echoes of Lazenby sweeping Diana Rigg off her feet in Tom’s relationship with Sophie. 

Intending to propose at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, he whisks her on the back of his powerful motorbike straight from her London hospital shift to St Pancras, insouciantly parking the bike at the front of the station where, I happen to know, you can’t slow down on a skateboard without copping a ticket from a traffic warden. 

Yet Tom brazenly intends to leave his machine there until he gets back from his loved-up weekend in Paris. That’s what I mean about detail.

Plainly, parking regulations hold scant fears for a man undaunted by a family-owned private militia called the Black Swans, with whom he has just had a fierce shootout at their hideaway on Hampstead Heath. 

He rumbled the hideout by tricking a pregnant gardener into revealing that she was neither pregnant nor a gardener, having sneakily ascertained that she couldn’t tell a pansy from a primrose. Tom can, of course. And by the way, Nana really did love Grandpa.

Sam Heughan woos Hannah John-Kamen. Tom brazenly intends to leave his machine there until he gets back from his loved-up weekend in Paris. That’s what I mean about detail

Having deadheaded the killer posing as a pregnant gardener, and secured the house for the SAS, 

Tom now finds himself on the very same ‘Eurostream’ train to Paris as a particularly pecky flight of Black Swans led by the indomitable Grace Lewis (Ruby Rose), the sexiest mercenary you’ll ever see.

Could she be heading for Paris Fashion Week, to brighten up the catwalk with some terrorist chic? Nope. She has a fiendish plan to blow up the Channel Tunnel and nobody but Tom can stop her.

What he doesn’t know is that some of his SAS colleagues are in league with the Swans, notably a field commander played by Andy Serkis with an accent like a Pearly King. 

With a single thrust of his cleft chin, Tom must outwit his erstwhile pals, prevent an egregious act of barbarism and still get the poor maharajah’s ring on Sophie’s finger.

All this is based on Andy McNab’s bestselling novel of the same name. McNab writes pacy, exciting thrillers that offer perfect ammunition for screen adaptations but, in this instance, someone has loaded blanks.

Incidentally, SAS: Red Notice also stars those marvellous old troupers Tom Wilkinson and Anne Reid, whose inclusion together on a cast list suggests an intentional British comedy with buns, not an accidental one with guns.

Silk Road is a somewhat more cerebral thriller, inspired by a Rolling Stone article about Ross Ulbricht (Nick Robinson), the physics graduate from Texas who in his mid 20s, obsessed with the principles of libertarianism, invented an internet marketplace for buying and selling hard drugs and cheekily named it after the ancient trade route connecting Europe with Asia.

Tiller Russell’s film co-stars Jason Clarke as disgraced Drug Enforcement Agency agent Rick Bowden, who, after going rogue on his last job, is assigned desk duties in the cyber-crime unit — a notably bad fit for an unreconstructed Luddite who thinks you can buy drugs on YouTube.

Nevertheless, can he deploy old-fashioned skills to wriggle into Ulbricht’s confidence and illuminate the so-called Dark Web?

Silk Road is good enough to make us want to find out, while not quite good enough to sell us a clunky subplot about Bowden’s domestic life. Still, it is at least presaged by a wry opening caption: ‘This film is a product of journalistic research and wild flights of fiction.’

Flights of fiction get even wilder in The True Adventures of Wolfboy, a quirky coming-of-age story about a 13-year-old boy (Jaeden Martell) afflicted with a congenital condition that causes fur to grow all over his body. Chloe Sevigny and John Turturro also pop up in a film that sensibly runs to just 88 minutes, which is about as far as its charm will stretch.

SAS: Red Notice is available on Sky Cinema. The True Adventures Of Wolfboy is on digital platforms now, Silk Road from Monday.

Chariots Of Fire was unveiled 40 years ago this month — and at the following year’s Academy Awards, screenwriter Colin Welland famously declared ‘the British are coming’. Well, the British have been storming the Oscars ever since, but rarely in numbers like this year.

A majority of the Best Actor nominees are British — Riz Ahmed (Sound Of Metal), Anthony Hopkins (The Father) and Gary Oldman (Mank) — and two fifths of the Best Actress contenders: Vanessa Kirby (Pieces Of A Woman) and Carey Mulligan (Promising Young Woman).

Mulligan was directed by another British nominee, Emerald Fennell (recognisable as Camilla Parker Bowles to anyone who has watched The Crown). And this country’s talent also looms large in the supporting categories, through Daniel Kaluuya, Sacha Baron Cohen and Olivia Colman.

Gary Oldman as Herman Mankiewicz in Mank

This year, we have until April 25 to decide who we would anoint ourselves, if we had the chance. Disappointingly, however, given that the Oscars are much later than usual, not all the Best Picture contenders will have had a UK release by then — including the film I think will win, Nomadland. 

That’s a very poor show. Of those you are already able to see, I think Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial Of The Chicago 7 (Netflix) is lucky to have been picked. 

I’ve seen most of the films on the list, and it’s the weakest. But I admired Judas And The Black Messiah (Amazon Prime Video), which is set in the same city at the same time as Sorkin’s effort.

And I loved Mank (Netflix), David Fincher’s fictionalised black-and-white account of the making of Citizen Kane. It has divided audiences, and I confess it took me two screenings to fall for it fully. But it is deliciously intelligent, witty and stylish.

As I say, though, my money is on Chloe Zhao’s superb and poignant Nomadland.

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