D: Matthew Hope / 99m
Cast: Milo Gibson, Sylvia Hoeks, Gbenga Akinnagbe, Joseph Millson, Elliot Cowan, William Fichtner
Following a successful assassination attempt in Morocco, covert US operative Jack Collins (Gibson) just wants to go home and be with his wife and their first child (whom he hasn’t seen yet). But before that can happen he’s drafted into a CIA mission to track down and eliminate a rogue soldier turned arms dealer called Terry McKnight (Cowan), who is planning to acquire a Russian nuclear warhead on behalf of a suspected terrorist organisation. Intelligence has placed McKnight in London, and Collins, along with old friend and mentor, Bennett (Fichtner), and CIA hotshot Samuelson (Akinnagbe), head there to intercept McKnight’s deal with the Russians. They make contact with an old friend of Collins’ called Deighton (Millson), who is a known associate of McKnight’s, but though he is initially cooperative, he soon betrays them. It transpires that Deighton is helping McKnight to facilitate the warhead deal, and keeping him safe in the meantime. With Collins’ handler, Leigh (Hoeks), insisting that McKnight must be stopped at all costs (and having personal reasons for being in charge), Collins must find a way of first eliminating Deighton before he can get to McKnight, and then finally get home…
Eight years ago, writer/director Matthew Hope made the edgy and well received The Veteran. It featured Toby Kebbell as a soldier returning from Afghanistan and discovering a conspiracy between the intelligence services and a gang of local drug dealers. Kebbell spent much of the movie popping up in various out of the way London locations and putting a messy stop to it all. Now, in All the Devil’s Men we have Milo Gibson doing much the same thing, but to far less rewarding effect. Saddled with playing a character suffering from an unexplored and ill-defined form of PTSD, Gibson spends a lot of screen time staring at, or taking, little red pills (but called gold pills by everyone else for some reason), and grimacing in pain from time to time. This and Collins’ need to return home to his family is the entire extent of his character development, and though you’d expect his PTSD to come into play during any showdown between Collins and McKnight at the movie’s close, Hope lets the idea lapse in favour of an over-the-top, gung-ho, ultra-macho shootout. It’s not the only time Hope sets things up for a later payoff only to renege on the deal and leave the viewer wondering why a plot point was included in the first place.
Perhaps the problem lies in the paper-thin transparency of the plot, which attempts to create thrills out of a nebulous geo-political intrigue, and then populates it with characters who remain woefully one dimensional and lumbered witn the kind of dialogue that serves only to highlight that Hope has no idea just how real life covert operatives etc would talk (Samuelson describes himself as a “shadow warrior”, while McKnight continually spouts aphorisms about the nature of conflict). There are the requisite number of action scenes but these largely consist of everyone running around shooting at each other in those aforementioned out of the way London locations, while Hope tries his best with limited resources to make them as exciting as possible. Sadly, he doesn’t always succeed, and the scenes in between the shootouts are of the “let’s set up the next action scene” variety and not terribly interesting. It’s clear that the movie has ambition, but its reliance on action thriller clichés and lack of investment in the characters – there’s literally no one to root for – are problems it’s unable to overcome, and Gibson, whose career trajectory has so far been on a steady upward curve, is ill-used and under-served by the material and his character. All in all, it’s a movie that somehow got made, but waaaay before it was ready.
Rating: 4/10 – despite attempts at being atmospheric and brooding, and opening with a tense, well executed sequence set in Morocco, All the Devil’s Men betrays its generic, meaningless title, and offers little from then on for the viewer to connect with; a massive backward step for Hope, and one that the likes of Hoeks and Fichtner might conveniently erase from their resumés, this lacks pace and energy, and any sense that a coherent, fully developed movie was ever on the cards.