Noomi Rapace has Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy under her belt, and can cite films by Brian De Palma and Ridley Scott on her resume — but the actress has yet to become a household name.
Close, now on Netflix, won’t be the film to change that, but it’s proof that, where action is concerned, Rapace could easily match stars like Keanu Reeves and Tom Cruise.
Directed by Vicky Jewson (Born of War) and loosely based of the experiences of real-life female bodyguard Jacquie Davis (whose clients have included J.K. Rowling and members of the British royal family), Close stars Rapace as Sam, the bodyguard hired to protect young heiress Zoe (Sophie Nélisse). As usual, the straightforward job turns into a web of conspiracy, sending Sam and Zoe on the run from a mystery enemy intent upon eliminating Zoe and her stake in her late father’s company.
The remaining pieces are relatively easy to put together: Zoe is a spoiled brat who needs to learn to care for other people; Sam is a emotionally closed-off tough guy who needs to learn to embrace her feelings. Whether or not they make it through their respective emotional journeys alive, I’ll leave it to you to find out, but suffice to say that the stakes feel unusually low for a story that’s built on nothing but stakes.
Then again, that may be the problem; the drama is a logical springboard for the action — which is where the movie excels — but it might have benefited from either being either thinner (Zoe and Sam’s inner turmoil isn’t interesting enough to warrant the time spent on it — apologies if this makes me sound callous) or being fleshed out further. It’s a difficult balance to strike, and one that Close flubs, with a few last-minute character turns coming off as convenient rather than particularly interesting.
Of course, there’s really only one thing that this film is meant to showcase: Rapace. She’s proven herself to be utterly chameleonic — meek in Stockholm; un-fuck-with-able in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; seven distinct personalities in one movie in What Happened to Monday — so Close’s “female Jason Bourne” angle is a walk (or more of a sprint) in the park.
The fact that she did all of her own stunts, and her commanding presence as an actor, brings immediacy to every fight scene. Her physicality spoke volumes when she played Lisbeth Salander, and she still possesses that same magnetism (and sense that she is not to be messed with) here, even if Sam isn’t as compelling of a character.
Luckily, Jewson is particularly good at shooting action, as Close come to life when Rapace is set loose. An early scene sees her kill a man with her hands tied behind her back, and the most impressive of the later fights takes place in a tank of water, with schools of fish swimming all around the combatants. Despite all of the disparate elements in the scene, it’s always crystal clear what’s going on — and who has the upper hand.
The way the characters change in order to move the story along, however, is stale by contrast. That the bodyguard-subject template is filled by two women is a pleasant change of pace, as is the growing bond between them and the refusal to push Sam towards being hyper-feminine or hyper-masculine in order to make her seem somehow cooler, sexier, or tougher. She’s tough the way she is. Close isn’t so much an emotional puzzle to be solved as it is a box for Rapace to fight her way out of. But there isn’t enough space for the most interesting commentary to flourish.
Close is a curio as the latest action movie to star a female lead (other recent releases including Atomic Blonde and Tomb Raider), even sporting, like the English-language Millennium film series, a stylish opening credits sequence. That opening, however, in combination with the more rote aspects of the film, does nothing to help build a structure worthy of Rapace’s talents.