Tag Archives: Martin Freeman

Review: The Operative

Year: 2019
Runtime: 120 Minutes
Director/Writer: Yuval Adler
Stars: Diane Kruger, Martin Freeman, Cas Anvar

By Mique Watson

Adapted from the novel “The English Teacher”, writer/director Yuval Adler has made a film wherein for almost the entire run time, we have no idea what and who it is about: is about Rachel, a woman recruited to infiltrate a company potentially involved with nuclear weapons in Tehran (nukes you say? Would’ve been nice if we could’ve seen them). Is it about Rachel’s handler, Thomas (Martin Freeman), or is it about her target, Farhad (Cas Anvar)? Is it about the moral, political, or societal impacts of espionage–or the demoralizing things one would have to do to succeed in this particular line of business? By the end, I had absolutely no bloody clue. I suppose one could say it works at least as well as its bland title “The Operative”, which describes Rachel (Diane Krueger) who, throughout the entirety of this enigmatic picture, is a frustrating cypher.

This story is told in a non-linear fashion; we jump back and forth in time between the disappearance of Rachel–why she’d chosen to go off the map. Adler does manage to conjure up of some genuine moments of anxiety and stress; yet, this is a tragic case of the parts bearing more impact than the whole. Yes, the film as a whole is pretty dull–and when it isn’t dull, it’s infuriating.

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The film opens with our conduit, Thomas (Martin Freeman)–Rachel’s former handler. Amidst the drab beige outdoor colour palette, he receives a phone call; on the other end we hear: “My father died. Again”. It’s Rachel–and she’s been missing, and he wants answers. We eventually get to those answers, and believe me; they’re as predictable as the film’s title.

Is it about the moral, political, or societal impacts of espionage–or the demoralizing things one would have to do to succeed in this particular line of business? By the end, I had absolutely no bloody clue. I suppose one could say it works at least as well as its bland title “The Operative”

Before I totally rip this generic pile of “ugh” apart, credit must be given where it is due: Krueger tries really hard. She gives an expertly steely, yet vulnerable performance; her beauty and talent shine through, despite the bland, almond hair and muted tones she wears (which, I suppose is done in an effort to convey that she, as a spy, must blend; her person mirrors the film’s drab, muted colour palette). We’re informed that Rachel has had a difficult childhood–that this has supposedly played a role in her character choosing to live such a dangerous life.

I haven’t read the book, so if there’s more to Rachel there, I couldn’t possibly say; here though, there’s just so little meat to her. She, like Tehran, is full of secrets. Apparently, Rachel’s mission is to travel to Tehran and pose as an English teacher; in doing so, she must infiltrate an electronics company in an effort to sell defective nuclear tech (tech with tracking devices!) to Iranian intelligence…and them some stuff about trade sanctions in case you were still paying attention. Except this is barely the focus of the story: the ACTUAL story is about Rachel falling madly in love with the company’s founder, Farhad–a man whose only noticeable characteristics are his handsome face and even more handsome bank account. In no time they’re flirting–I wish I was kidding.

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This is a story of a woman who can’t be fully controlled by the men around her; but above all else, this is a story about a woman written by a man.

Yes, Tehran is full of secrets–yet the only secrets Rachel ostensibly shows interest in are the inner workings of Farhad’s heart. It’s such a shame we never really know just what she sees in him–the chemistry Kruger and Anvar share are about as noticeable as a needle in a haystack. As a matter of fact, for the most part, I was under the impression that this seduction was all part of her mission.

This is a story of a woman who can’t be fully controlled by the men around her; but above all else, this is a story about a woman written by a man. Rachel is just about the most frustrating female spy I’ve ever seen–one who happens to embody all the nastiest stereotypes of women: she instantly gets emotionally attached to her target (and sleeps with him almost just as instantly), she’s unprofessional, she’s unreliable, and she is utterly incompetent when it comes to following basic instructions (there’s a scene when she yells “I follow your protocols like a fucking robot”–I burst out into laughter). She lies to her superiors about being adopted for a reason so risible, it’s insulting; it doesn’t even have any bearing on the plot whatsoever. Every decision she makes revolves around Farhad; almost every significant conversation she has whilst not in his presence is about him.

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In the end, we’re left with a frustrating effort which completely fails at offering us any form of narrative catharsis. Throughout the entirety of this crime-drama (“crime” “drama”), there is precisely one terrifying scene: it involves Rachel driving a truck full of weapons into the isolated mountains over the Turkish border; one thing leads to another, and she ends up being surrounded by a group of men she’d never met. But aside from that, this film is just one anti-climactic scene after another. And then, “The Operative” just … ends. I haven’t seen a conclusion this abrupt since 2012’s “The Devil Inside”; perhaps Rachel is meant to be unknowable? By the end, It appears that Krueger is just as confused and bewildered as we are.

0.5 stars

Signature Entertainment presents The Operative on DVD and Digital HD from 13th January

31 Days Horror, Day 7: Cargo

“Cargo” is a 2018 Australian post-apocalyptic horror film written by Yolanda Ramke who also co-directs the film with Ben Howling.  The film follows an infected father who has just hours left before he becomes undead, and his desperate attempt to find for a new home for his infant child. The plot of “Cargo” may seem familiar to you as the film is based on Ramke and Howling’s short film also entitled “Cargo“. This feature-length version of the film features Martin Freeman, dutifully going on with his journey to protect the most precious thing in his world as around them civilization collapses. Picture “The Road” crossed with AMC’s “The Walking Dead” and you essentially get “Cargo”. However, this isn’t to say that the film isn’t unique in its own right, this is simply passing comment on how the film plays homage to the post-apocalyptic/Zombie story.

The film takes place in a post-apocalyptic Australian outback which has been ravaged by an untreatable and highly infectious disease. If you catch this disease then you have 48-hours until you turn into one of the walking dead, and people are supplied with a ‘FitBit’ with a timer that reads “48:00” that slowly ticks down to their transformation. All law and order have broken down and society, as we know, has collapsed. We follow Andy (Freeman), his wife Kay (Susie Porter) and their baby daughter who have escaped on a houseboat on the River Murray in South Australia. The small family makes their way up the river on the search for sanctuary.  They are running low on food, but they dare not venture onto dry land as it would be a fate worse than death.

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Circumstances leave Any on borrowed time,  and he becomes increasingly desperate to find a foster-carer for baby Rose, a glimmer of hope arrives when a young Aboriginal girl (Simone Landers) who is trying to save her own father comes on the scene. As well as the slow-roaming but relentless zombies who live by the well-established rules of the genre, there are occasional fellow survivors like the unhinged Vic (Anthony Hayes) and a fierce resistance being waged by Aboriginal people who have returned to the bush and formed safe communities. We are told that the aboriginal tribes saw this event coming, and they are prepared, unlike the rest of us. A nice comment on how indigenous people have been ignored and shunned by others.

“With a tense atmosphere, a solid plot, breathtaking cinematography and a great performance from Martin Freeman and Simone Landers, “Cargo” is a highly enjoyable film.”

The cinematography by Geoffrey Simpson is simply breathtaking, as Simpson manages to capture the gorgeous landscape, which is a spectacular mixture of red dirt scrub smoldering with spitfire, the broad river with its cliff banks and majestic rocks and the mountains of the Flinders Ranges. The use of drone shots helps to reinforce the vast isolation that our main characters find themselves a part of. The landscape sprawls on for miles upon miles, signifying that in the outback no-one will hear you scream and come to your rescue.  Martin Freeman delivers a touching performance and watching his slow demise into one of the undead will bring a tear to your eye. However, he is easily shadowed by Simone Landers’ extraordinary performance as the young aboriginal girl Thoomi. Landers is truly wonderful to watch and has so much maturity despite being so young.

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The theme of a deadly disease brings to mind the Ebola and swine flu outbreaks, although the main theme, however, is of race relations and respect for the ancient cultures of Australia’s first people. The plot plays with reversals of our history to this point, but despite its intelligence and sincerity, it always maintains the suspense of the horror genre. “Cargo” also addresses the idea of responsibility being forced upon the younger generations, in the way that Andy tries to pass on his responsibility as a parent onto a young girl. There’s much to unpack here and the directors manage to expand on their short film without ever losing the impact that their short had on audiences.

With a tense atmosphere, a solid plot, breathtaking cinematography and a great performance from Martin Freeman and Simone Landers, “Cargo” is a highly enjoyable film, and one worth seeking out on Netflix. It is a film for those who like their horror film a little more high-brow and more character-driven. “Cargo” may not be the film for hard-core zombie fans who enjoy rampant blood and gore, but with so many zombie films relying so much on gory special effects nowadays, “Cargo” made for a refreshing change.

Rating: 4 Out of 5 Stars