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Vicky Jewson Close Review

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Close | Review

But No Cigar: Jewson’s Bodyguard Thriller Nary Skirts the Surface of Female Agency

Vicky Jewson CloseDirector Vicky Jewson continues to mine the role of women working in clandestine, espionage prone occupations with her third feature, Close, reuniting her with producer and screenwriter Rupert Whitaker of her 2014 sophomore revenge thriller Body of War. The British-American co-production will likely become Jewson’s calling card thanks to the presence of its leading lady Noomi Rapace, an actress again showcased for her significant mixture of steely reserve, noted physical prowess and impressive ability to emote in even the most dizzy-headed exchanges. Unfortunately, the end-product ends up being a superficial mixture of barefaced mother-daughter issues and wan politically minded economic shenanigans despite the best efforts of the two women thrown together in exotically inclined cat-and-mouse parameters.

Jewson and Whitaker model their action thriller on the experiences of noted real-life female bodyguard Jacquie Davis, and it’s these elements of Close which feel most closely attenuated. Rapace fills her likeness as Sam, a counter-terrorist expert who often works in war zones, which is where we meet her, taking down terrorists during a sticky rescue mission. But she becomes an unlikely babysitter for a rich, spoiled heiress, Zoe (Sophie Nélisse), set to inherit large shares of her father’s company following his unexpected death. But her conspiring mother (Indira Varma) seems to have other plans for the company and Zoe. When Sam thwarts a kidnapping attempt, Zoe ends up killing a policeman in Casablanca, and thereafter both women have only each other as they elude several parties desperate to capture them.

Jewson has an obvious penchant for vintage musical cues, having utilized a Freddie Mercury cover for her 2008 debut Lady Godiva and notably opening with a cover of Kate Bush’s classic “Running Up That Hill” this time around, which lulls us into expecting something a bit more moody and complex than Close ends up being as, ironically, we are never led into any real emotional proximity of Sam or Zoe. Casting tends to work against the film in odd ways as well. For those familiar with Rapace’s work, both her presence and performance recall similarly poised but emotionally obtuse characterizations in a series of analogously calibrated projects of recent note (to its credit, Close comes off a helluva lot better than Michael Apted’s utterly inept 2017 title Unlocked, in which she starred).

Try as she might, Canadian actress Sophie Nélisse never seems to be the right choice for the role of Zoe, especially as a wayward teen supposedly addicted to drugs and sex as her means to overcome her oft-referenced abandonment issues (instead, she’s still a bit in the haughty, obnoxious adolescent phase of something like her turn in The Great Gilly Hopkins, 2015). Nélisse seems to be at the same impasse as many other young actresses struggling to bridge the transition from teenager to young adult. Her presence here is extremely similar to something like Liana Liberato in 2012’s Erased (an estranged daughter to Aaron Eckhart’s ex-CIA agent) or Hailee Steinfield in 2014’s 3 Days to Kill (an estranged daughter to Kevin Costner’s dying CIA agent). While Jewson’s femme-centric approach is a welcome change of pace, this presentation of this dynamic feels as crippled as the usual father-daughter clichés by depending solely on the broad strokes of characterization.

British actress Indira Varma is unfortunately saddled with the script’s most inept execution, a spidery mother figure hellbent on securing her stock trades rather than the welfare of her ward, outfitted with dialogue and exchanges which are always a bit overwrought and cheaply operatic. And of course, how the script chooses to explain why Rapace’s Sam goes to the lengths she does to keep Zoe alive is as predictable as it is unsatisfying, while the frequent asides of newscasters and various technological highlights tend to make Close feel incredibly cheap and ultra-silly. What Jewson’s film does have going for it are several well-choreographed action sequences featuring Rapace and Nélisse, equipped with surprising energetic dexterity and capability which everything else about the film sadly lacks.

★★/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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