Film Review

Joe Carnahan’s Boss Level

If I was mayor of FilmTown, I’d make the day a new Joe Carnahan film came out a national holiday. The guy is such a great storyteller and to me, each of his movies over the years is a solid gold classic, from the gritty Narc to the cult status Smokin Aces to the emotional masterpiece The Grey to the criminally overlooked Stretch. His new film Boss Level just dropped on Hulu and various other platforms for rental and let me tell you, it’s my favourite thing I’ve seen in awhile and most definitely of 2021 so far. The infusion of action and SciFi has always been a great love of mine and when done with wit, intelligence, inspiration and badassery it can be a truly special sub-genre. Frank Grillo stars as ex special forces soldier Roy Pulver, who finds himself in a curious metaphysical time loop on the day of his death: he wakes up, is immediately confronted with a host of eccentric and quite lethal contract killers, some of whom he is able to kill, and others not so much. The day is often a variation on the same template, but one thing remains unchanged: at some point, in some way, he always ends up dead. Who placed him in this purgatorial halo of mayhem? Does it have something to do with his ex girlfriend (Naomi Watts) who works at a mysterious physics research lab owned by a Machiavellian despot (Mel Gibson) hellbent on some nefarious agenda? Well of course it does but the fun is in seeing how, and how with each new day, or each new crack at the level as this thing is a terrific mirror board for video game concepts, he learns a little more, and gets a little closer to figuring out what’s happened, who has it in for him and why. Grillo is a great choice for an action hero because not only is he physically adept and imposing, he also has acting talent and charisma for days and just feels like someone you want to be around. He narrates the film in hilarious, touching and sardonic voiceover and makes Roy a terrific character creation. Gibson is in scenery chewing Bond villain mode, munching on a giant cigar and commanding hordes of minions like some dark god, while Watts is terrific as ever. Keep an eye out for Will Sasso, Michelle Yeoh, Annabelle Wallis, Quinton Rampage Jackson and Ken Jeong as a lippy bartender. This is a wonderful motion picture with balls to the wall ruthless gory action, absolutely hilarious and colourful dialogue (Carnahan has a way with words like no other), a SciFi concept that is just this side of silly yet still tantalizes the brain (the Osiris Spindle is such a cool idea) and feels intricate and trippy enough to keep us guessing and immerse us in the world. You know what really hit it home for me though? Roy is a real character with an arc who not only has to fix the dilemmas imposed upon him by an external antagonist, but fix his own heart and mend his own wayward tendencies, particularly in the relationship with his son (Rio Grillo, Frank’s real life kid) who he’s never seemed to find the time for, until now when all he has is one day, but a day that scintillates into eternity. There is real pathos in this story and for a 90 minute action film with this much destruction, mayhem, crazy characters, conceptual exposition and layered plotting it’s rare to find an emotional core emanating from it as well, but this one really has it all. Kinda like Source Code meets Groundhog Day with splashes of Bond and this exhilarating undercurrent of video game thematics, and also fiercely and singularly its own thing. Best film of the year so far.

-Nate Hill

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