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Categories: Movie Reviews

Stratton is a relentless 87 minute battle between the director, editor, cinematographer, writer and actors to prove who can do a worse job.

Stratton is a film that you cannot speak about earnestly without everything you say sounding like gross exaggeration. As a film, a singular entity shot with cameras and performed by actors, it is genuinely atrocious. If this was the first film you had ever seen from prolific action director Simon West then you may very well have assumed that it was his first film ever. It is riddled with basic, filmmaking 101 level, gaffes; particularly in sound recording and the truly horrendous editing.

It is a story ripped from the pages of a tatty paperback called “Zero Force” or “Echo Two Bravo” or “Operation Ice Phoenix” (you know the ones I’m talking about, don’t pretend you don’t) and is delivered with all the grace and finesse thereof.

Stratton is, in fact, based upon a series of novels written by Duncan Falconer, a former Special Boat Service commando who now writes books about a Special Boat Service commando called John Stratton who, wouldn’t you know, is also quite rugged and a hit with the ladies.

Stratton is played in the film by Dominic Cooper, who must locate a stock terrorist villain so unmemorable that he could only be played by Thomas Kretschmann (maybe Marton Csokas) before he can release a vague chemical weapon MacGuffin that sounds like a made up drug from a teen soap opera (Satan’s Snow), assisted by a parade of almost invisibly thin supporting characters.

Gemma Chan plays a feisty assistant whom you suspect was described in the script as “Hot Asian”, Connie Nielsen delivers a magnificently awful school ma’am accent as the requisite Woman In Charge and Tom Felton’s obviously-not-going-to-turn-out-to-be-a bad guy just looks unwell. Then we get to the really bad stuff.

American actor Austin Stowell plays a character so inconsequential to anything that the best way to describe him would be “discount Scott Eastwood”. The vaguely handsome white man who shows up in your action films to do nothing other than quip a little with the lead vaguely handsome white man. Their presence feeling like a favour between producers, a “just let my kid stand in the warehouse this summer so he can put it on his resume that he had a job there; he won’t touch anything” scenario.

Then there’s poor Derek Jacobi. If Cooper is already too good for this film, which he is, then I’m not sure what that makes Jacobi. Super too good for this? His presence as some kind of forced emotional center to the rest of the anaemically sterile film is so hilariously transparent that it’s a real surprise his character isn’t blind.

Cooper’s is still by far the most depressing performance, as it’s him that you must spend most of the film with. He offsets Kretschmann’s boredom with what appears to be actual irritation. There is nothing to John Stratton, or any of these characters, and performing them must have been almost as frustrating as watching them.

The main problem with all of this being that if you do not enjoy the characters that you are going through the story with then their horrendous actions made in the name of Queen and Country appear as nothing more than psychotic. You don’t want any of these people to live, you don’t want them to succeed or be happy.

There’s a scene in the film where Stratton must interrogate a bombmaker (as action heroes like this so often must) and in order to gain the pertinent information from the hardened criminal, Stratton threatens the lives of the man’s young children. A tactic which garners genuine fear and emotion, perhaps the only example of it in the film. After finding out what he needs to know, Stratton leaves the man strapped to the chair and remotely detonates a bomb to kill him.

Now, not only is this kill played as a joke (the classic “walk away and be too cool to look at the explosion” moment), there is no indication that the bombmaker was of any further threat and the film makes no reference to the moral indefensibility of the action. Stratton isn’t just bad, it’s genuinely ugly. It’s upsetting to see that so many people can reach such a level in their profession and still create something so childishly awful.

As storytelling, an example of people exercising certain disciplines, it is mind-bogglingly bad and as entertainment, something that a person is meant to find humanity and joy within, it is frankly disturbing. Stratton, as no doubt a result of its origins, likes to get all the terminology right but it is totally incapable of placing it within any kind of meaningful context.

Motivations in a James Bond film may not always make sense but James Bond films are not attempting to mimic reality, quite the opposite actually. Stratton wants you to think of it as being grounded in the real world but comes off as the fantasies of a violently delusional mind. A sensation compounded by the flailing camera work and jarring cuts between feeble set pieces and robotic dialogue.

Stratton is out now in cinemas.

Mark Birrell

Mark is the editor of The Spread as well as a copywriter, and lifelong cinephile, who received his bachelors in Film and Comparative Literature from the University of London. You can follow him on Twitter @markwbirrell

Posted on Sep 1, 2017

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