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D: Vicky Jewson / 94m

Cast: Noomi Rapace, Sophie Nélisse, Indira Varma, Eoin Macken, George Georgiou, Christopher Sciueref, Akin Gazi, Kevin Shen

Sam Carter (Rapace) is one of the world’s foremost female bodyguards. Following a tough assignment, she’s enjoying some down time when she’s offered the job of protecting a mining heiress, Zoe Tanner (Nélisse), for twenty-four hours, including a trip from England to Morocco. Zoe’s father ran a company called Hassine that is now overseen by her stepmother, Rima (Varma). With an important deal looming, Zoe’s presence in Morocco is regarded as a stabilising factor due to pressure from a rival company, Sikong. When the safe house they are staying in is attacked, Sam and Zoe manage to escape but matters worsen when the police they believe are taking them to safety prove to be just as dangerous. They get away again, but not before Zoe shoots and kills one of the officers. On the run, and with Sam being disavowed by her bosses, the pair must contend with continued threats to their lives, while Rima fights to keep the deal from falling through. When an extraction plan goes badly wrong, and it looks as if Rima is responsible for Zoe being targeted, Sam must come up with a plan to save them both…

Somewhere, buried deep within its solid action movie credentials, Close contains the germ of an idea that relates to female empowerment. With Rapace’s character based on real life bodyguard Jacquie Davis, it’s an obvious approach, but in telling its awkward, badly constructed story, Close fumbles the central relationship between Sam and Zoe, and never comes near to making it feel like a natural consequence of being thrust into such a dangerous situation. Sure, there’s a mutual dependence that develops, and Zoe proves to be almost as resourceful as Sam, but as ever with relatively low budget thrillers, the characterisations take a back seat to the action, and any character beats prove both perfunctory and forgettable. It’s the one over-riding problem for anyone making an action movie: how to make the characters look and sound like recognisable human beings. So, often they’re given tragic pasts (here, Zoe is still struggling to cope with her mother’s suicide), or emotional baggage to carry around (here, Sam has a daughter that she had to give away at sixteen), but it’s rare that these attempts at adding depth complement or improve matters. And so it proves with Close.

But while the script – by Jewson and Rupert Whitaker – is less than convincing during its quieter moments, it’s much more successful when it’s putting Rapace through a succession of tough, physically demanding action scenes. One such scene, which finds Sam going one on one with a bad guy with her hands tied behind her back and relying on her wits and ingenuity is surprisingly impressive, even though the coverage could have benefitted from a few more medium shots at the right moments. One of the movie’s other pleasures is its rich, warm-hued cinematography. Courtesy of Malte Rosenfeld, this gives Close the sense of having a bigger budget and better resources than other movies of its ilk, and many of the Moroccan locations are rendered beautifully. Rapace is as reliable as ever, and convincing enough that you’d definitely want her on your side in a real fight, but Nélisse is all at sea in a role that has under-developed written all over it. But that’s as nothing to the trials Varma is put through as the movie’s notional villain, a role that sees her having to veer (unavoidably) between uncaring über-bitch and misunderstood stepmother, and often in the same scene.

Rating: 5/10 – though Jewson is clearly at home amidst all the bullets and bloodshed, Close suffers from a stodgy narrative, wince-inducing dialogue, and rudimentary character work that all combine to undermine the things it does get right; there’s ambition here, certainly, but somewhere along the way it was jettisoned in favour of making the same mistakes that so many other low budget action movies make.