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Based on a series of novels written by ex- Special Boat Services commando Duncan Falconer, the titular John Stratton is an SBS operator who must track down an international terrorist cell.
Director Simon West goes searching for a more grounded take on Bond, Bourne and Mission Impossible’s Ethan Hunt and delivers a kinetic, globe-trotting action-thriller that plays more like BBC’s Spooks by way of ITV’s Ultimate Force. The noughties televisual element is unsurprising considering the low budget nature of the movie and for the most part, the filmmakers do their best to develop tension, intrigue and believable threat.
Dominic Cooper once again proves that he has the chutzpah to be a notable lead. His physicality in the role is commendable as he performed many of his own stunts and does a grand job of traversing cliché-ridden dialogue. We also get a great turn from Derek Jacobi (is there any other kind?) who could’ve certainly done with more screen time as the surrogate father figure for Stratton, and Thomas Kretschmann’s villain proving once again that he’d make a compelling antagonist for Bond, Bourne or Hunt. He’s an actor who understands the concept of “less is more” and we’re thankfully spared the bad guy monologues and shouty moments you often see in films of this ilk.
The rest of the cast are a mixed bag. Gemma Chan manages to engage with a paper-thin character, Tom Felton does his best Tom Felton, and Connie Nielsen keeps a straight face through some of the choppiest moments in the godawful screenplay. The plot beats are very much “by the numbers” and it’s the script suffers from a kitchen sink approach to clichéd, groan-worthy dialogue. But it’s likely that you won’t be watching this movie for profound political statement or stirring character arcs.
Stratton works best when the pace is rapid and the action, packed. From car chases in Rome, speeding boats across the Thames (sort of) and an explosive conclusion, there’s enough expedient choreography to keep the film chipping along at a merry pace. Nathaniel Méchaly’s score is reminiscent of his work on the Taken franchise but with a hint of David Arnold’s Bond orchestrations. Unfortunately, viewers with any knowledge of London may find the chase through the city in the final reel unintentionally humorous as the locations covered make for some geographical feats of cinematic fancy.
If you’ve seen any 21st Century action thrillers in the past few years, then there will likely be no surprises in Stratton. However, there’s potential in the protagonist and I hope Simon West, Dominic Cooper and co. get to tackle a second outing with the character to push beyond the pedestrian and break new territory.