There is a lot to like about Kidnap, the new Halle Berry vehicle, but perhaps my favorite aspect of the film is how director Luis Prieto keeps it simple. Kidnap is a lean, focused, blindingly-paced adrenaline burst that gives even the most phone-addicted millennial no time to worry about whether or not Johnny Instafaced them or how many likes their newest Twit got. Using a high-octane, old-school approach to filmmaking, Prieto, writer Knate Lee, and Berry work as an unbeatable team to suck the viewer in and drag them along for one of the most enjoyable films of the summer.
I was once talking about my experience watching Snakes on a Plane when someone who overheard the conversation interrupted to ask me what that movie was about. Don’t make that same mistake with Kidnap. Halle Berry plays Karla. Sage Correa plays Karla’s six-year-old son Frankie. While at the park, Frankie is kidnapped and Karla pursues the guilty party with the lone goal of retrieving her son. That’s it. That’s the movie. And that’s all it needs to be.
The film moves at a blistering speed. Prieto takes just enough time at the beginning of the movie to establish character and context and then we are off and running. And, what a run it is! It’s a full-on sprint for its rather abbreviated 81-minute running time. Even as short as the film is, it flies by. It felt to me that we were only about 45 minutes in, when suddenly it was over. And that’s a compliment, as no one enjoys films where we keep checking our watch, just waiting for it to mercifully come to an end. Not the case with Kidnap. I forgot that I had a lot to do when I got home. I forgot that I had other stops to make. I forgot that I hadn’t had lunch and was supposed to be pretty hungry. I was along for the ride.
Though she isn’t the only actor in the film, make no mistake: this is Halle Berry’s movie. She easily holds down the most screen time and carries the majority of the film’s weight on her shoulders. The emotional core of the film is firmly centered within her performance as Karla, which is more complex than one might immediately realize. As simple and straightforward as the narrative happens to be, it’s not quite so easy for Berry, who can’t just bury herself in hysterics or only resonate anger. She has to consistently be concerned, panicked, resolute, furious, alert, hopeful, loving and any other of a myriad of emotions that one would be feeling in this situation. Much of her screen time is spent talking to herself and she aims to push herself through the barriers of fear and uncertainty and keep herself from making any fatal errors in judgement. It might seem unnatural to anyone who isn’t thinking about it or sharing the moment with her, but it’s exactly what any sensible person would do in her position. The characters – particularly Karla – are honestly written, which in my opinion is the most important support column in the foundation of any script.
The film, itself, covers all of the ground that this brand of film could possibly cover. The first half plays like a super-charged, action-chase film, while the second half is more of a suspense-horror thriller. It’s a little bit of everything and the shift is natural and seamless. I actually skipped the gym, today, to catch an early showing of the film. I think I made a good choice because I swapped out forty minutes of elevating my heart rate with eighty-one minutes. The entire movie is just that thrilling and that riveting.
There are little places where one could nitpick. There are the expected good-fortune circumstances that help Karla along on her journey. There are a couple of mighty coincidences that push the boundaries of plausibility, as well. None of this is as pervasive as in many other films of its type, nor are they so massive as to be too bothersome. The film also tackles some clichés of the genre and handles them easily, working them in and moving past them without making them central plot points. Prieto and Lee know the conventions of abduction movies and do a nice job of acknowledging that they must be addressed while also making sure the audience doesn’t spend too much time in familiar territory. The fact is that the film isn’t perfect (very few films are) but it’s awfully good and any flaws are far outweighed by its multitude of strengths.
It should be pretty obvious that Kidnap isn’t going to be garnering any Best Picture nominations in 2018 but it should also be obvious that the filmmakers weren’t trying to. This is the second of two films currently in theaters – along with Atomic Blonde – that have a very throwback feel specific to the hard-nosed action-thrillers of the eighties. And both are excellent, fast-paced, adrenaline rushes that are sure to become cult classics over the years. Hopefully, they can also be financial successes, in the meantime. If you want a powerful, explosive escape from your humdrum existence, I strongly suggest an Atomic Blonde/Kidnap double-feature. If you don’t have time for that, then see them on separate days. But both of these female-led films need and deserve your support. The experiences are worth more than the $10.00, or so, that each will cost.
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