Straight from the pages of the best-selling novel by former SAS operator Andy McNab comes the action-packed thriller SAS: Red Notice.
SAS: Red Notice follows a special forces operator named Tom Buckingham (Sam Heughan) who’s on a train to Paris with his girlfriend Dr. Sophie Hart (Hannah John-Kamen). The trip, on which he had been planning to propose, goes sideways when the train is seized by Grace Lewis (Ruby Rose) and the Black Swans, a private military company. The hundreds of passengers occupying the train are terrified as they’re held hostage deep within the confines of the Channel Tunnel, and Grace threatens to expose the British government’s darkest secrets and blow up the tunnel if her ransom demands aren’t met. It’s up to Tom, who’s unarmed and cut off from his counter terror team, to take charge of the situation to ensure the passengers make it out alive. SAS: Red Notice also stars Andy Serkis, Tom Hopper, and Tom Wilkinson.
So with a riveting plot and an all-star lineup of players to tell the story, how does this movie hold up?
Warning: Spoilers beyond this point.
SAS: Red Notice is not your typical action film; this layered thriller wants its audiences to think. Yes, there’s fire, smoke, bombs, and bloodshed. There are gunshots, boots on the ground, and causalities along the way. But there’s also a fascinating undercurrent to the flashes and bangs, one that might make you want to watch twice solely to soak it all in.
The strong cast of this film follows the orbit of two of its main characters, special forces operator Tom and the stoically diabolical Grace. Though many may associate Sam Heughan with a certain fantasy drama role, he’s also begun to make it abundantly clear that he fits well into a world of action. He carries himself through this film with a cool and collected attitude, while still conveying a fierce dedication to Tom’s mission at hand. Ruby Rose, meanwhile, is an unshakeable force to be reckoned with as she steps into the shoes of the antagonist. Rose brought a magnetic charisma to Grace; she’s a ruthless package wrapped in a sardonic smile.
Tom and Grace may stand on opposite sides of morality and the law, but their similarities run deep (something that’s examined head-on by Grace in one of the film’s strongest scenes). Both are trained killers who can take away a human life without a second thought, no emotions or remorse. The film’s underlying commentary is meant to shed light on the psychopathy spectrum. There are “good” psychopaths like Tom, who can utilize those qualities within himself to excel as a member of the SAS. There are also “bad” psychopaths like Grace, someone who operates within a system of wicked corruption. The author of the original novel, Andy McNab, is a diagnosed, functioning psychopath (a topic which he’s written about). This lends an authenticity to the mindsets that we see from our characters on the battlefield and in their interpersonal relationships.
Andy Serkis is another key player in this film, because his character George Clements has various ties with almost everyone involved. As to be expected, Serkis’ tough-as-nails presence brings forth an unhindered level of tension and suspense that thrums throughout the room in every scene that he’s in. Hannah John-Kamen’s Dr. Sophie Hart was a pleasant surprise; she found a determined footing in the latter half of the film as a strong female protagonist who refused to take the hostage situation lying down (versus just being relegated to a narrative “damsel in distress”). It was done in such a way that as much as I knew that the ultimate showdown was meant for Tom and Grace, I was ready for all bets to be off when it appeared that Sophie was ready to go toe-to-toe with her instead.
SAS: Red Notice balances out neatly on the technical side with aesthetically pleasing cinematography, something that can often be an afterthought in action films. There’s varied camera work throughout that feels dynamic yet far from distracting, particularly during the “hard arrest” at the Lewis headquarters. The energetic scenes are then interspersed with soft shots, tight closeups, and careful framing. Once the film moves down into the Channel Tunnel, the lighting becomes one of the single most impressive aspects of SAS: Red Notice. Our characters are bathed in mixed warm and cool hues that elevate the movie to an entirely new level, tonally. The fact that much of the story took place inside of a train and within a tunnel could have easily been a recipe for disaster, but ultimately the lighting and camera work turned this set into a visual feast.
Though SAS: Red Notice holds up as an intriguing cinematic experience, there are some minor shortcomings to be noted. The film heavily incorporates the use of cell phones throughout; Tom keeps his team updated with photos he’s snapped of suspects and the scene, and there’s a steady flow of text messages amongst many of the main characters. My gut instinct reaction to watching Tom creep along the side of the train to covertly sneak pictures of the heavily-armed gunmen inside was that it felt out of place and removed from the serious nature of the film. However, there’s also an honesty in extending the reality of society’s attachment to mobile devices beyond that of regular civilians.
Some may also need to invoke some willing suspension of disbelief in the trajectory of Tom and Sophie’s relationship by the end. In the first half of the film, audiences are faced with the contrasting feelings of Tom–– who is in love with Sophie and wants to marry her — and Sophie, who bemoans to Tom how fundamentally different they are as people and also has no issue in telling a complete stranger about her issues with the relationship. The fact that Tom finally cracked and cried in front of Sophie was undoubtedly a monumental step for both of them, but I felt it was difficult to fully buy into the wedding scene without seeing them work through the rest of the mountain that had built up between them previously.
Small grievances aside, SAS: Red Notice was an intriguing and enjoyable viewing experience with a provocative story and captivating characters.
SAS: Red Notice is now available in the UK and Ireland via Sky Cinema, and will launch in the United States and Canada on March 16.