By: John M Jerva
I’m a huge fan of the one take action sequence. This tool in modern day cinema is one of the hardest to pull off and when done right, it is one of the most relentless and nail biting set pieces an action movie can have. There is literally no room for error as there are no cuts, edits or trickery but just clear and cohesive shots of the talent involved doing what they do best. In order to pull of the one take action sequence, filmmakers have to make sure that they have the best of the best in front of the camera to sell it to the audience.
Up until now, there have been some monumental examples of the one take sequence or “oner” as it is affectionately called like the staircase fight in The Protector with Tony Jaa, the brawl in Kickboxer: Retaliation with Alain Moussi, and most recently, the eleven minute adrenaline rush in Extraction with Chris Hemsworth. These are just some of the finest examples out there and these scenes were every bit as exciting as they come.
Recently, filmmakers have been dabbling in longer one take scenes and there have even been full length movies to that effect like 1917 and Birdman. To do a whole movie like this is extremely difficult because you have to fool the audience into thinking the film is all one take while clearly having edits in there because let’s face it, you can’t film a movie like this in one day. When done right, it looks like you did and that’s the best compliment you can give a movie when it looks like it was done all at once.
With that said, we have our newest entry in the one take film which is called most fittingly enough, One Shot and it hails from director James Nunn. The up and coming filmmaker has already put out some noteworthy action films like the last two Marine films with The Miz and Eliminators which starred Scott Adkins and Stu Bennett. Nunn is an indie action filmmaker that can do a lot with little and with his newest offering, this is his most ambitious project to date. It makes sense that Nunn would reunite with Scott Adkins for this film because in order to pull off an entire movie in one take and in real time you need the best of the best and here Nunn puts Adkins on full display and showcases the action star in a gritty new light.
On the surface, One Shot is a military actioner about a team of Navy SEALS who are tasked with escorting a high value target off a CIA black site prison which is located on an island in the middle of now. Adkins stars as Lieutenant Jake Harris who leads his elite four man unit on the island with CIA analyst Zoe Anderson (Ashley Greene Khoury) to extract Amin Mansur (Waleed Elgadi) because he’s a businessman with supposed ties to terrorists who potentially knows something about a lethal strike on Washington D.C. that is about to take place. There’s no time to waste so Zoe, Jake and his men need to find out what Mansur knows and extract him before it’s too late.
Standing in their way is CIA site manager Jack Yorke (Ryan Phillippe) who doesn’t want them there and definitely doesn’t want them dipping into his cookie jar and taking one of his most valued prisoners. Yorke is a man that knows the risks of what will happen if they screw things up and innocent civilians are killed in the long run.
Pretty much as soon as the team arrives, the collective crap literally hits the fan as a team of insurgents led by brazen mercenary Hakim Charef (Jess Liaudin) infiltrates the prison and turns the facility into a war zone as they are after Mansur as well. Now Harris and his men must run a gauntlet of extremists as time is ticking away with inevitable disaster looming in the not too distant future.
When One Shot was first announced, I was immediately drawn to the project because of Adkins and if anybody could pull off an entire movie without edits, it is the human special effect. Adkins is such a talent that every second he’s on screen, you know it’s the real deal and he’s just flat out exciting to watch. With this film, it’s truly special because if anybody was born to do a one take action film, it’s Scott Adkins. Make no mistake, this is a great cast assembled and they all do a great job with the material here but at the end of the day it’s Adkins that puts this film on his shoulders and carries it over the finish line.
Phillippe has a smaller role as Jack Yorke but he still leaves an impact. His character comes off as brazen and unlikeable at first but it’s clear that he’s an ordinary man with an extraordinary job. When the time comes, he’s a man who will do what it takes to get the job done. As Zoe, Ashley Greene Khoury is the moral compass of the movie as she is there to get to the truth which is easier said then done. Zoe isn’t a combatant by any stretch of the imagination so her character brings a different perspective to the proceedings.
On villain duties, Jess Liaudin is simply foreboding and intimidating as Charef. This guy is bad plain and simple and he definitely is a worthy opponent to Adkins when the time comes to throw down. Add in Lee Charles as his right hand man Dhelkor and you have a serious one-two punch in the bad guy department. Adkins has his hands full with these two and the altercations are brutal and unflinching in their execution.
Adkins’ team consists of Emmanuel Imani as Whit, Dino Kelly as Danny and Jack Parr as Ash and everyone here looks the part of an elite team of frogmen. You could tell that a lot of time went to the authenticity of making the actors look the part and that makes a big difference. From the way they move to the way they talk, Adkins and company does the SEALS proud and this is definitely a great homage to the real men who have gone down range in real life.
With a movie that’s shot in real time, it’s usually hard to become vested in the characters because there is no time for development. It’s literally hit the ground running from opening credits to close so how do you make the audience care about these people when you know next to nothing about them. That’s the true test and here everyone gives it their all with the performances and even though you don’t know much about Jake, Zoe or the SEALS, you know what’s at stake and that overlays the need for character development. These are brave men and women who are putting their lives on the line and that right there says something about them.
The action in One Shot doesn’t take long to get going and once it does, there’s no breathing until the final credits roll. It’s a relentless surge of firefights and CQB fight action and it’s on full display with sweeping camera angles and cohesive continuous takes that does the cast and stunt performers justice. In this day and age of shaky cam and quick edits, Nunn utilizes every trick in the book to make sure the viewer sees it all and this film is the definitive cure for any movie that made you feel motion sickness while watching it.
The first half of the movie is a true ensemble effort as Jake, Zoe, Jack and the SEAL team feverishly fight to protect their HVT from the extremists and you feel every bullet that whizzes through the air and every explosion that rocks the earth. Nunn throws the audience into the heat of combat and with the one take gimmick, it’s like you are there running alongside the participants of the movie. It’s the closest thing to being there and it’s brutally honest in it’s depiction of combat.
The last third of the movie is the best that action cinema has to offer as Nunn sets Adkins loose to do what he does. There are two extremely well choreographed and riveting scenes with the first being a stealth sequence where Harris quietly carves his way through a surge of soldiers while trying not to be detected. It’s a taut and nail biting scene full of hand to hand and knife fighting carnage and Adkins, under the watchful eye of veteran fight coordinator and action maestro Tim Man, dishes out some truly unforgiving kills.
The finale is nothing less than spectacular as Adkins goes into full on one man army mode in a riveting sequence that showcases some of his best action to date. In a carefully crafted climax, Adkins runs and guns like he’s a human energizer bunny hyped up on pure adrenaline. Of course, there are no cuts or edits and you can tell that the endurance level for Adkins is off the charts as even though he’s tired he still keeps on going. You’re right alongside him as he uses every ounce of strength that he has left as he literally saws through an army to complete his mission. It’s one of Adkins’ finest performances both physically and emotionally and fans will certainly get their money’s worth when it comes to the on screen bravado of the action star.
Overall, Nunn, Adkins and company have truly done something special here. One Shot is a ninety plus minute relentless one take barrage of action and real time heroics that gives the audience a sweat inducing experience. It’s a movie that is relevant and impactful and it’s one of the year’s most original action films in terms of its execution. Adkins is in fine form and he delivers his best dramatic and physical performance to date. There are no edits, cuts or room for error as Adkins is in full effect with his signature action style. It’s a relentless, full-throttle experience that immerses the viewers into the action. One Shot will leave you breathless and it is definitely one of the best action films of the year.
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