As part of the Malta Film Week, I was given the opportunity to attend a screening of the 2021 film One Shot. Director James Nunn‘s shared during the live Q&A that he had the idea for the project six years ago and the success of films like Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) would eventually convince producers to greenlight his dream project of an action film made to look like a singular shot. Yet, as the title of the review might give away, this didn’t quite work out.
Nunn’s concept isn’t a bad one. The tension of closely following a Navy SEAL (Scott Adkins) during a covert prisoner transport as terrorists attack the camp works on paper. Yet, the project went with a style over substance approach in how the one-shot turns more into a gimmick rather than a way to enhance the experience. I will state that the action choreography is impressive, especially as he revealed they only had three weeks time to prepare everything in pre-production and it shows that the film mainly focuses on it.
There are characters here, but they are quite one-note. Adkins‘ Jake Harris is a blank slate by-the-numbers action hero that seemingly survives any scenario. Ashley Greene‘s Zoe is introduced as what seemed like another main character that is underutilized outside of long exposition sequences early on. We technically have a villain, but his character is mostly every villain cliché you can imagine. We get a tragic character in the form of Waleed Elgadi‘s Amin Mansur, but he repeats the same lines throughout the entirety of the film that just drags down a good performance by the actor.
The only character with any real personality is Terence Maynard‘s Tom Shields, but mostly due to him chewing the scenery throughout most of the film. He’s also the only one that doesn’t talk in pure exposition but actually gives us some personality. Even the more jokey characters that are part of Harris’ SEAL team talk in mostly clichés that pretty much give away their fate for anyone that has seen a film like this.
Cliché is a fitting way to describe the film overall. There’s just nothing to make it stand out from other films in the genre, especially those with a lot to say about the current climate surrounding soldiers and war. The film mostly uses a good base concept – which could’ve built up an incredible amount of tension for viewers – and is more focused on showcasing how cool Adkins is taking down evil bad guys while the camera never cuts away.
There are drawn-out sections in this film that are just pure action. It tries to build up some kind of tension, and there are small moments of it, but overall it felt like a non-interactive video game. If Call of Duty ever had a movie adaptation, this film pretty much is that with some Metal Gear Solid sneaking thrown into the mix. Not just that, we spend hours of people talking as they just shoot down goon after goon with their main issue being the lack of ammo that only becomes relevant when the story requires it to build some last-minute tension.
Speaking of, there’s an uncomfortable element on how this film approaches its “antagonists.” Not only do we see Americans torturing prisoners – mostly to make you feel bad for Mansur – and it comes at the cost of not caring for any of our supposed “heroes.” We get gratuitous violence with the camera shying away from people getting stabbed but forces us to watch as an innocent civilian is shot in the head. It just feels like it’s sending the wrong message and lacks any nuance.
I want to especially highlight one sequence that comes at a later point in the film. So, beware of spoilers in this paragraph before continuing. The film does take some time to “flesh out” its villains and we get a brief sequence of a young soldier being convinced to sacrifice his life with a bomb vest. Besides the obvious problems with this, there’s a lot of build-up for this and he just randomly shows up in another sequence. And, the results of his action made me scratch my head and wonder what was the point of this film.
There are a lot of sequences that drag out, and Nunn confirmed in the Q&A that his initial script only truly worked for a 60-minute film. The fact he had to add another 30 minutes to meet his quota shows It’s just action for the sake of action. The opening is pure exposition without any real character development. So, the only selling point is the gimmick in the title – which also seems depressing that it doesn’t actually play into the story of the film – and it doesn’t add anything. The shot composition is restricted as a result and you mostly can see some fun action choreography. If that is something you’re interested in, then you can give this one a shot.