Unlocked movie review: the spy who broke the female mold

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Unlocked yellow light

MaryAnn’s quick take…

There’s stuff in this spy thriller that’s fresh, and lots that’s familiar, but Noomi Rapace using her brains and brawn to fight bad guys is a genuine thrill.tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): I’m desperate for stories women; love a good spy movie
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Is “unlock” genuine spook-speak, like the way it’s used in Unlocked: to get useful information out of a suspect during an interrogation? It makes sense, but who knows. Does the CIA actually have agents working as “community embeds,” as Noomi Rapace’s Alice Racine is as Unlocked opens? Cuz that would be authentically insidious: she seems to be a kindly public advocate in a poor London neighborhood, the sort of person you might go to if you were having trouble with your landlord or something, but her real purpose is to gather intel on the ground about the local goings-on. She’s literally a spy in their midst, and it’s pretty Orwellian.

I would bet that Rapace’s spy was originally written for a man, she’s that free of sexualization.

There’s some good stuff that feels fresh in Unlocked, stuff we haven’t seen stories like this do before onscreen, including all of the above. And then Racine gets pulled back into fieldwork, called in to interview someone the agency thinks is a courier for a radical imam believed to be planning a terror attack against an American target in London. What happens during that interview includes another surprising thing that I cannot recall ever figuring into a spy thriller before — the trailer spoils it; don’t watch the trailer — and Racine is off and running and trying to stop the attack on her own while also trying to figure out just what the heck is going on beyond that.

That’s when Unlocked starts feeling more familar: the intrigue from here on is much more run-of-the-mill, sometimes veering into the ridiculous, if entertainingly so.tweet Director Michael Apted (Chasing Mavericks, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader), working from a script by first-timer Peter O’Brien, is pretty pedestrian in his mounting of the usual action setpieces. So the pleasures of the movie come almost wholly down to the always fantastic Noomi Rapace (Child 44, The Drop). (Even those few initial new twists on the genre are mostly just the setup.) Of course it’s fun to have a woman playing a part that I would bet was originally written for a man; Racine is full of angst, traumatized over Something Bad that happened in Paris a few years back, just like male secret agents get to be! But Rapace is so solidly down-to-earth, and makes Racine so rooted to the job, that she is thrilling to watch. The film does not sexualize Racine in any way — there is, thank god, no scene in which she simply must go undercover at, I dunno, an embassy do in a slinky dress and fuck-me heels, for instance. No lipstick poison for Racine, and no faux seductions: this is not that kind of movie, and she is not that kind of agent. (I wish that wasn’t such a big deal, but it is.) Unlocked just lets her get on with the work, and that might be the most refreshing thing about the movie, and her.

“Dodge this, Legolas.”
“Dodge this, Legolas.”tweet

There’s an amazing cast around Rapace: Orlando Bloom’s (The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, The Three Musketeers) thief turned her accidental sidekick (“I’m useful. And I like trouble.”) is somehow both badass and kind of a hoot.tweet There’s also Michael Douglas (Ant-Man, Haywire), Toni Collette (Krampus, Miss You Already), and John Malkovich (Deepwater Horizon, Zoolander 2) as Rapace’s boss spooks. And they’re all fab, as you would expect. But honestly, I would do without all of them and just watch Noomi Rapace fight bad guys with her brains and her brawn in a dozen movies, and be perfectly happy.

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