The best part about Survivor is Pierce Brosnan’s moustache. Throughout the film, you’ll be kept on a knife-edge, racked with suspense as you wonder as to whether this temperamental, continuity-defying piece of face follicles will show up in a scene or not. It’s there when his sombre master-assassin, codenamed the Watchmaker, first gets hired by some terrorist ne’er-do-wells to take out Milla Jovovich’s overly competent US Embassy security officer Kate Abbot, but then mysteriously conspicuous in its shaggy absence when he actually goes to do the job. Later on it shows up again as he and some fellow baddies plot a New Year’s Eve terrorist attack on New York City, and then keeps up the flip-flopping, taunting us with its hairy presence/non-presence. How did it get there so quickly, and where does it keep zipping off to?!
If only the rest of the blandly titled Survivor was engaging as that moustache.
The latest chapter in director James McTeigue’s thesis titled “V for Vendetta may have been a fluke and I’ll probably never do anything as good again”, Survivor is a sloppy, hackneyed espionage thriller story that you’ve already seen done better several times over the years. In case you were wondering, this is how its done this time around:
Jovovich’s newly appointed security officer Abbot is so good at her job of sniffing out possible terrorists based just on their visa applications, that these bad apples have Brosnan’s Watchmaker blow up a restaurant with her inside it so that they can get on with their international dastardly deeds unhindered. When the explosion only takes out Abbot’s colleagues through pure happenstance, the terrorists decide to flip the script and pin the bombing on her.
This forces Abbot to have to clear her name with the authorities who no longer trust her, as well as piecing together and foiling whatever plot these shadowy folks have cooked up. Cue lots of mildly tense running and hiding from the jittery Abbot, with Brosnan’s supposed “best operative in the world” somehow continuously missing and being bested by his supposedly inexperienced foe. Occasionally the script tags in James D’Arcy’s Police Inspector Anderson to do the chasing, while Dylan McDermott’s always-a-step-behind Sam Parker – Abbot’s former boss and the only man who believes her – valiantly tries to put a stop to all this running around on bargain bin London sets.
Every so often throughout the film’s 95-minute running time, other overqualified actors like Angela Bassett, Robert Forster and three-time Olivier Award winner Frances de la Tour show up to cash a paycheck and not much more. The normally potent Bassett is especially hard done by as an ambassador who’s just there to glower through every scene as she issues shoot-on-sight orders for her own ex-employee, because who needs due process – or believable character motivations – anyway? As the two leads, Jovovich and Brosnan offer slight respite from the flatlining performances though, respectively producing a believably desperate heroine and a coolly efficient killer. It’s a far shot from career defining work by the pair, but certainly watchable.
McTeigue also occasionally gets pulses racing with some scuffles, and certainly knows how to lens an explosion to maximum bone-crunching effect, but you almost feel as if these flashes of cinematic panache happened by accident as he directs everything else so by the book – if the book happens to be a dumbed down picture book on how to produce an uninspired facsimile of other superior spy thrillers.
None of this is helped by the fact that Phillip Shelby’s script is positively transcendent. And in case you’re confused, I’m actually referring to how the film’s narrative is always conveniently having characters transcend time and space to just miraculously appear where they need to be. This is a movie where people can not only cross the Atlantic from London to New York in a heartbeat, but they can actually leave after the people they’re pursuing and still end up there before them. I’m just going to assume that since this movie is primarily based in Britain that a certain Time Lord and his blue police box came into play off-screen.
And really, that’s the best way to watch Survivor: Either disengage your brain entirely or just make up far more exciting explanations/motivations for the film’s multitude of plot holes, wafer-thin characters and mostly lackluster action beats. Just remember to keep an eye out for the star of the show: that elusive, tricky moustache!
Last Updated: June 2, 2015