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The Protégé Review: Has Its Moments, But It Misses the Mark

Martin Campbell has been interested in exploring themes of vengeance and conspiracy in his films during the last decade. This is obvious in the films ‘Edge of Darkness’ (2010) and ‘The Foreigner’ (2017), both of which have protagonists waging personal vendettas against those responsible for the death of someone they care about. Thematic interest continues with ‘The Protégé,’ where, for a shift, instead of a male protagonist on a vengeful quest, his latest picture features a female lead.

Maggie Q, who portrays a contract killer named Anna, is the female lead in question. She was raised and taught under the tutelage of Moody (Samuel L. Jackson), who also serves as her father figure after saving her as a child in Vietnam. But, after discovering Moody’s murder in his own house one night, she vows to track down the perpetrator. Her search takes her back to Vietnam, a place she doesn’t want to return to because of her tragic past. From there, she meets Rembrandt (Michael Keaton), a professional murderer whom she initially met while working as a store owner selling ancient and rare books.

‘The Protégé,’ written by Richard Wenk, suffers from the same flaws that affect the majority of his screenplays, where all seem to be potential but sloppy and half-realized results. As an example, consider his mediocre screenplay work in the two ‘Equalizer’ films and ‘Jack Reacher: Never Go Back.’ I hate to admit it, but the same issue arises in ‘The Protégé.’ The tale aspires to be more than simply a straight-up revenge thriller, and if you’re expecting Maggie Q to go all ballistic like a female version of ‘John Wick,’ both of which are distributed by Lionsgate, prepare to be disappointed.

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What we have here is a film that tries to fill in the gaps with layers of a conspiracy-driven plot. Except it’s more of a padded-out narrative structure than anything actually intriguing. It appears that the film strives too hard to make a point about the intricate world of shady dealings and reasons from the perspective of professional killers. The film even seeks to examine the changing relationship between Anna and Rembrandt at one point, and to be honest, it has some potential, only to finish up as a half-baked idea. This is a genuine shame, given that Maggie Q and Michael Keaton have some terrific onscreen chemistry but are eventually beaten by Wenk’s sloppy writing.

Another issue is the pacing, with the regularly stop-start momentum allowing for exposition-heavy periods. It was a similar issue with ‘Edge of Darkness’ and ‘The Foreigner,’ when both pictures became far too heavy-handed for their own good.

Still, that doesn’t imply ‘The Protégé’ is a complete flop. Martin Campbell, like his two preceding films, understands how to stage an action sequence with vigour. You won’t find the ever-annoying shaky-cam style or rapid-fire editing for the sake of “jazzing things up” here, two of today’s action films’ most common weaknesses. Instead, he directs the action in a crisp way with the help of a second unit director Dian Hristov (‘Skin Trade,’ ‘The Hitman’s Bodyguard,’ and the 2019 ‘Hellboy’ revival). In other words, the action is fast-paced, which is aided by Campbell’s preference for practical stunts over CGI.

Speaking of practical stunts, it’s good to see Maggie Q back in action after appearing in the forgettable ‘Fantasy Island’ and ‘Death of Me.’ Here, she slips into the role to which most of us have grown accustomed, Maggie Q. And she’s playing a murderer, which reminds me of how well she fit in on TV’s ‘Nikita.’ Similarly, she performed the majority of her own stunts, and her physically demanding job is simply astounding. Not only that, but Campbell also allows her to stretch her dramatic acting muscles during some of the non-action scenes.

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Michael Keaton, who gets first billing in this film, gives a compelling performance as Rembrandt, and Samuel L. Jackson does a decent job as Moody. But not for Robert Patrick, who is woefully underutilized in the role of Billy Boy. He plays the gang head of a motorcycle club and has a relationship with Moody and Anna, but the film doesn’t bother to handle it fully, instead just insinuating it.

‘The Protégé’ features a few moments that showcase some of Martin Campbell’s directing prowess, but the picture is ultimately a squandered opportunity.

The Protégé Review: Has Its Moments, But It Misses the Mark
The Protégé Review: Has Its Moments, But It Misses the Mark
The Protégé Review: Has Its Moments, But It Misses the Mark
The Protégé Review: Has Its Moments, But It Misses the Mark
The Protégé Review: Has Its Moments, But It Misses the Mark
The Protégé Review: Has Its Moments, But It Misses the Mark
The Protégé Review: Has Its Moments, But It Misses the Mark
The Protégé Review: Has Its Moments, But It Misses the Mark
The Protégé Review: Has Its Moments, But It Misses the Mark
The Protégé Review: Has Its Moments, But It Misses the Mark
The Protégé Review: Has Its Moments, But It Misses the Mark
The Protégé Review: Has Its Moments, But It Misses the Mark
The Protégé Review: Has Its Moments, But It Misses the Mark
The Protégé Review: Has Its Moments, But It Misses the Mark

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