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From the opening scenes the world of South Africa, through this movie’s tinted glasses, is presented to us in a grisly way, with human trafficking rife and cops who don’t seem to look twice. It is a dark and twisted world; a title card informs us that this is the world post-financial collapse and that state security has broken down. ‘Numbers gangs’ terrorise the streets, terrorising, kidnapping and selling children to international ‘flesh cartels’ run by ‘The Amir’.
It is a lot to take in to begin the movie, and during the opening scenes, we see a gang kidnapping children, while the police force seem to not care, or have resigned to the fact that there isn’t anything they can do to stop it. A sense of impending doom lurks over the film, and within this world we meet Sawa, who it seems has been caught by one of these gangs, but it is unclear. In fact, most of this movie is unclear, which is its biggest weakness. It also seems Sawa is a trained killer, which she makes brutally clear not long into the film.
We are quickly introduced to Lieutenant Karl Aker, played by Samuel L. Jackson, who is supplying Sawa with a drug called amp to erase her memories, as she was traumatised by the death of her parents and does not want to remember it. At some point in the movie it is said that the drug was developed for those who suffer from post-traumatic-stress-disorder, or PTSD. When we first see the detective and Sawa together, it becomes obvious that she is addicted to the stuff, and is trembling. Aker tells her it is an addiction, not just the amp, but her lust for revenge. So then, why the lust for revenge?
Apparently she wants to find the person who killed her parents, and despite being a cop, Aker helps her every step of the way, from providing her with the drug to erase her memories, to covering for her when she decides to get violent. His motives for doing this are unclear for most of the movie, which in this case is a positive thing and helps maintain tension. What is perfectly clear though is that both Sawa and this shady detective both want the same thing: ‘The Amir’, the head of all the human trafficking, and the man responsible for the death of Sawa’s parents.
Lost? I must admit I am a little lost just writing this, as I often was when I watched the film, but it seems like a premise good enough for an action movie, right? We have a dangerous female character, which is always refreshing in the male infested world of movies, though too often her character turns into the doe-eyed damsel in distress. She is also often scantily clad and looks easily under 18, which removes any presence or originality her character could have had. We also have Samuel L. Jackson’s detective Karl Aker, who is helping Sawa. But why? His intentions provide the best sense of tension throughout the film.
What of the action scenes though, are they any good? Well, they are a mixed bag. Some scenes really deliver some great, brutal action, despite some shaky camerawork. There is a ton of blood here, so if you have a weak stomach avoid this at all costs. But the other half of the action seems horribly by-the-numbers, with some almost cheesy looking fight scenes that look awfully choreographed. Sawa also seems invincible throughout the movie, with every bullet missing her while every bullet she fires hits its target. We never find out how she became such a merciless assassin either, she just kills everyone she comes across, convinced that each person she kills will take her one step closer to the leader of the flesh market operations, the man responsible for the death of her parents.
Unfortunately it is only downhill from here, especially when it comes to the script and story, which often makes no sense, giving the viewer a narrow chance of understanding what’s going on and why. Characters drift in and out of the movie, many are killed before they can make an impact on the film, though most of the time we have no idea who they are anyway. The script also feels very rushed, as no one really says anything of interest, and certainly not much to help us understand the story being told. There are also some horrible, cringe-inducing one liners to round off the terrible script, which isn’t exactly delivered with conviction. The acting here is mediocre at best, save for Samuel L. Jackson, and even his performance feels phoned in.
This is a movie that feels like it throws away potential. The addict angle could have been further explored, the same applies for the child trafficking, while the compromised security forces could also have been elaborated on. Rather, this movie muddies the waters by using all three of these notions and mashing them together, resulting in a messy movie that seems aimless and confused as to what it wants to say.