SAS: Red Notice, 2021.
Directed by Magnus Martens.
Starring Sam Heughan, Ruby Rose, Hannah John-Kamen, Tom Hopper, Noel Clarke, Andy Serkis, Ray Panthaki, Anne Reid and Tom Wilkinson.
An SAS operative finds his romantic getaway to Paris curtailed when a high-value mercenary target hijacks a train in the Channel Tunnel.
The market for tough, British action thrillers has been rather cornered by James Bond. It’s rare to see a genuinely solid action spectacular set in the UK, without Ian Fleming’s 007 quipping and womanising his way through the middle of it. With that in mind, director Magnus Martens’s SAS: Red Notice feels like a rare and rather welcome beast. It’s the sort of movie that Hollywood has no problem churning out – starring everyone from Jason Statham and Vin Diesel to Nicolas Cage and Liam Neeson – but this one has a distinctly British feel.
Outlander star Sam Heughan – often suggested as a prime contender to take on 007 in the future – leads the movie as Special Forces operative Tom Buckingham. Interestingly, he’s a pampered posh boy who grew up in a manor, which positions him quite some distance away from being a Bruce Willis-style everyman in a bloodied vest. After taking part in a raid on a group of mercenaries, he takes a much-needed break by whisking his doctor partner Sophie (Hannah John-Kamen) away to Paris for a romantic marriage proposal. Sadly, he has some truly rotten luck when his cross-Channel train is hijacked in the Tunnel by the psychopathic mercenary leader Grace (Ruby Rose).
It’s a pretty standard action setup, but Martens makes the most of it. The script by Laurence Malkin and Chad Thumann – adapted from ex-soldier Andy McNab’s novel – is elegantly plotted, stringing together thrilling set pieces and crunching action with solid emotional beats. At more than two hours, there’s no doubt that the film is a little flabby and overlong, but it’s never anything other than supremely watchable, which compensates for a multitude of sins.
It helps that Heughan and Rose make for a dynamite pair of leads. Heughan is as charismatic as he is committed to the action sequences, carrying scenes of suave bravado and bruising fights with the sort of aplomb that suggests he would actually make a terrific 007. It’s not easy to make such an obvious posh boy likeable, but Heughan pulls it off in his scenes with John-Kamen and a brief bond he shares with a young passenger on the train. He handles the comedy well too, including a scene involving perhaps the most surprising thing ever seen at the bottom of a train toilet. Or, then again, perhaps not. Anyone who has used the loo on a long-distance Pendolino will likely have some stories.
Rose is a perfect sparring partner for Heughan, physically and verbally. A third-act scuffle between the two is choreographed to perfection and embraces the grubby realism of face-clawing and swinging limbs, rather than the hyper-stylised strikes and gunshots of other action movies. Red Notice is a film willing to go its own way in terms of visual spectacle, with a decidedly fallible hero meeting his match in a smart, ruthless adversary who will never stay down and give up.
When it moves its focus away from Heughan and Rose, though, the movie gets more than a little bogged down. Most notably, there’s an over-arching political plot, involving Ray Panthaki’s prime minister and Andy Serkis as a corrupt military type, which is too complex and labyrinthine for its own good. These extended sojourns into backroom intrigue are much less exciting than the events on the train and only serve to pad out the movie with furniture it doesn’t need. Its bite is much more potent than its bark, but it ultimately spends too long barking.
Thankfully, there’s never long to wait before the film is back with Heughan, Rose and the hard-hitting action core at the heart of this movie. Given the rather variable quality of Sky Cinema’s original outings, this one goes down as a pleasant surprise. As for Heughan, Barbara Broccoli and the Bond team could certainly do a lot worse.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Tom Beasley is a freelance film journalist and wrestling fan. Follow him on Twitter via @TomJBeasley for movie opinions, wrestling stuff and puns.