Febiofest Review: Slam-Bang Action, Sleepy Story in ‘Headshot’

Febiofest Review: Slam-Bang Action, Sleepy Story in ‘Headshot’

Headshot, the new film featuring The Raid’s Iko Uwais, features one extended action sequence that matches just about anything in the kinetic action star’s previous work.

It’s an Assault on Precinct 13-style scene that sees a group of thugs stage an attack on a police station. Uwais’ amnesiac Ishmael, handcuffed to a desk as the cops are slaughtered, has to fight his way out of the place through a gang of thugs one-by-one.

In the wonderfully-choreographed, breathlessly-edited 15-minute sequence, Ishmael uses every element of his surroundings to his advantage, defeating his opponents with the uses of tables, chairs, telephones, typewriters, and filing cabinets.

It’s a relentlessly brutal piece of action filmmaking, a beautiful ballet of spurting blood and broken limbs that’s equally impressive for what’s going on behind the camera and in front of it, as the filmmakers let their performers shine in numerous long, unedited takes.

It’s the type of scene that could make Headshot, otherwise a low-rent Bourne knockoff, superior to it's big-budget Hollywood rivals. Gareth Evans’ two Raid films set an incredibly high standard for Indonesian action cinema, and the creative team behind this movie - co-directors Kimo Stamboel and Timo Tjahjanto, known as The Mo Brothers  - prove that they can match it.

But while Headshot features isolated action scenes that top anything coming out of Hollywood, the filmmakers struggle to make their story anywhere near as engaging.

They also seem to shoot their action wad early, and wind up with a series of climactic fight scenes that pale in comparison to what’s been accomplished earlier in the film.

Story: after Uwais’ Ishmael washes up on a beach, he’s nursed back to health by kindly doctor Ailin (Chelsea Islan) while struggling to remember his identity thanks to a bullet in the brain. Flashbacks come in the form of intense migraines, helpful for the viewer but a hindrance to Ish in the midst of his brutal battles.

When shady underworld kingpin Lee (Sunny Pang) catches wind of Ishmael’s resurgence, there’s clearly a connection. He sends his thugs out to get him, who wind up kidnapping the doctor-cum-love interest in his place.

That story ain’t much, but seems to take up about two-thirds of the running time; Ishmael’s backstory, revealed via the flashbacks and then painfully narrated by the characters over and over, is especially protracted and screentime that could have been better spent.

But then there are the action sequences, brutal, bloody, and beautiful to behold, and all is forgiven. And while the climactic ones don’t reach the heights of that police station shootout - they fail to utilize their environments to such an entertaining degree - they’re still first-rate pieces of action choreography.

While the whole of Headshot doesn’t quite match the two Raid films, the fight scenes almost certainly do. And star Uwais has cemented his place as the next big thing in action movies.

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