Headshot: Violent, Intense, Brilliant [ADIFF 2017]

Action cinema received a much needed shot in the arm in 2011 with the release of Gareth Evans’s The Raid. The film, a taut Indonesian martial arts masterpiece set in one location was quickly compared to Die Hard. That film gave audiences crisp, clear and expertly crafted fight scenes in a tense and claustrophobic setting. These long unbroken sequences were a breath of fresh air in comparison to the stilted, slow, overly edited fight scenes from modern Hollywood action fare. It would be easy to compare Headshot, the latest film from Indonesian pair Kimo Stamboel & Timo Tjahjanto to The Raid. You can see the elevator pitch,  ‘It’s The Bourne Identity meets The Raid‘ and while it is indebted to both of those films Headshot is very much its own animal. It doesn’t dwell on the amnesia storyline like the former and lacks the big budget Hollywood sheen of the latter. What Headshot delivers is a beautiful, brutal, bloody, bullet riddled action ballet.

The film with its extreme cartoonish gore and grimy aesthetic at times feels more akin to the Evil Dead. It is tense, exciting and funny sometimes all in the same moment and should be mandatory viewing for all action fans.

The plot centers on Iko Uwais’s (The Raid) Ishmel, who washes up on a beach with a serious head wound and no memory of who he is. He quickly gets involved with his doctor, but just as he is settling into a life of bliss his violent past comes back to haunt him. That is pretty much it for story.  For all its simplicity the plot does offer some twists along the way and even manages to be quite emotionally effective. This is down to the strength of the performances. Uwais is as reliable as ever easily selling the simmering rage just beneath the surface. Chelsea Islan is as adorable as the doctor Aliin and her quiet scenes with Uwais, although a little corny give the film a much needed heart. At first the film sets her up to be the standard damsel in distress but as the story progresses Islan is giving plenty of opportunity to impress. Like all good action films they live or die by their villain and in Sunny Pang’s Lee, Headshot doesn’t disappoint.

From his opening prison break introduction Sunny is electrifying. Coming across like a violent, twisted reimagining of Oliver Twist’s Fagin, Sunny’s Lee is both violent and unpredictable, completely owning the film whenever he is on screen. He manages to bring some real pathos to his performance in later scenes making him one of the more memorable villains in recent history.

The plot might be simple but it works in moving the story from action scene to action scene and it is here where Headshot excels. The fight scenes invoke memories of The Raid but all captured in grimy low-fi handheld style. There are so many standout sequences, from the police station demolition to the jungle show down. All of the action is captured with real energy, the camera rotating 360 degrees around and sometimes through the fight scenes. One sequence in particular set on a bus is masterful in its execution. The action escalates with unbearable levels of tension punctured by occasional moments of levity giving the audience a moment to catch its breath before it builds all over again. All of this is done with extreme levels of blood and violence with the sound design capturing every bone snap and skull crack in all its glory.

Overall your enjoyment of Headshot might come down to how strong of a stomach you have. The film doesn’t shy away from violence and watching Iko Uwais taking repeated slow motion hits to the face might not be for everyone. It’s a film that revels in over the top violence but has a sweet enough core with characters you genuinely care about so it never becomes overwhelming. A must see.

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

About Robert Fitzhugh

Robert is a Dublin based film addict. When he is not main-lining cinema he tries his hand at making it. Loving everything from Superman IV to Schindler List. He tried not watching movies once, wasn't a fan.

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