Directed by: Cedric Nicolas-Troyan
Cast: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Woody Harrelson, Miku Patricia Martineau
At some point we’re gonna have to stop comparing all these brooding, neon-infused, shoot-‘em-up revenge thrillers to John Wick. After all, the action genre was alive and well prior to 2014, and yet somehow, we act as though the Keanu Reeves hit is the end-all be-all paradigm for the genre (it’s not). 2021 alone produced a handful of female-led, brooding, neoninfused, shoot-‘em-up revenge thrillers specifically, with the likes of Gunpowder Milkshake, The Protégé, and Jolt. So then, when Netflix released Kate, many viewers were already experiencing an understandable fatigue. Not to mention, the filmmakers behind many of these recent projects can’t seem to avoid rehashing the same man-hating themes. Kate almost gets there too (although it’s nowhere nearly as onthe-nose as Gunpowder Milkshake and its collective antagonist of just “men”), but almost acquiescently so. Halfheartedly included is the romanticization of the idea that men only hold women down. Yet, apparently it’s okay to be berated by another woman, as long as they’re no-nonsense bruisers who do what they want in the name of toughness.
The titular hero, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, is an assassin tasked with killing a member of the yakuza in Osaka, Japan. But when this traumatizes the man’s daughter, Ani (Miku Martineau), who was standing right next to him, Kate starts to reconsider her line of work.
Nearly a year later, she agrees to do one last job for her handler and mentor, Varrick (Woody Harrelson), but gets poisoned by a radioactive substance and now only has one day to live. Surprisingly, she discovers that this all has a connection to the previous job in Osaka. Kate begrudgingly befriends Ani in order to work her way up the ladder to find the man responsible.
There are times when Kate’s motive isn’t strong enough. With only a day to live, her revenge seems more self-serving than it does poetic justice. However, it’s her journey to discovery where she’s finally able to reclaim her life. As we see, she’s spent her entire childhood and young adult life training to be an assassin. And now, it’s all come down to this, struggling to find true freedom as her time on Earth is almost over.
If you’re savvy enough, you might be able to predict the twist not because of how the story is told, rather because of the performance of a particular actor. I won’t say who it is to preserve the reveal, but he’s miscast here. Playing his role more for acerbic comedy than as the scary menace he ought to be, this actor is not believable in his character’s fluctuation and his tell gives away the secret early on.
Always remembering that these are humans fighting, Nicolas-Troyan finds the balance between sleek, crafty motion with the camera and authentic, intentionally-flawed choreography that isn’t afraid to occasionally beat up on its hero.
Director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, who began his career as a visual effects artist, gives us some of the best fight sequences of the year, including a marquee brawl at a kabuki-themed restaurant where our protagonist takes down dozens of yakuza gangsters in a matter of minutes. Always remembering that these are humans fighting, NicolasTroyan finds the balance between sleek, crafty motion with the camera and authentic, intentionally-flawed choreography that isn’t afraid to occasionally beat up on its hero. The director doesn’t fall in love with quick cuts, but holds his shots so that we’re not cheated out of our role as the spectator. And when he’s able to mix in some highly inventive gore effects, he makes sure we see them.
As our characters peruse the alleyways of Tokyo and dip in and out of various local hot spots, the string of scenes that transpires over the course of a single night has a seamless flow that’s sprinkled with inspired production design and fun moments, despite a curmudgeonly Kate.
The narrative meets an unfortunate dip along the third act, which figuratively traps our characters in an ominous, flickering office tower. Other than a few moments that match the rest of the film, this is the only time where its derivation is a problem; where homage becomes the answer rather than the question. Largely though, Kate brushes aside its influences and is able to stand on its own as uniquely and authentically stylish, proving that just because all art requires inspiration doesn’t mean it has to be defined by that influence if it’s entertaining enough.
If anything, Dear Evan Hansen is a great example of how the medium of cinema is unique in its capabilities, able to translate a story in a way that a live stage play cannot. In “Sincerely, Me,” this new medium is used to create a hypothetical cutaway sequence as Evan writes fake emails to and from Connor. The film goes back in time and brings Connor back to life to replay different ridiculous scenarios that never actually happened as they become written and rewritten. Moreover, the inherent look and feel of a movie, versus a play, allows for any jumps in time to be less confusing.
The individual musical numbers, while catchy and peppy, tend to blend together with their melodies, leaving only three or four standing out, particularly the opening track, “Waving Through a Window,” which immediately sets the tone and informs us of Platt’s vocal prowess. Unfortunately, the filmmakers betray the audience by undermining the most emotionally anticipated moment in the entire film with the recitative melodies of “Words Fail” rather than showing our character’s growth by having him actually face his issue head on through authentic communication.