Directed by Navot Papushado
Warning: Some light spoilers here.
Wow, what a great action movie. I’ve been a huge admirer of Karen Gillan ever since she charmed our hearts and minds as Amy Pond in Doctor Who. She’s finally making some success of it in Hollywoodland now, with roles like Nebula in multiple Marvel Cinematic Universe films and, okay, the odd thing like the Jumanji reboot (a film for which I’ve still not had the heart to publish my review and, I will one day but, to sum up my thoughts on that one... bloody awful... but she was still good in it, even if she couldn’t save the picture). Since I saw her in the opening of Stuber (reviewed here) and she played the all action cop partner who was fridged right at the start of the film to motivate the main character, I’d been wondering when the fine folks in Hollywood were finally going to let her head up an action vehicle and, yeah, Gunpowder Milkshake is an almost perfect film with which to do it.
The plot is very simplistic, which means there are no ‘I saw that coming an hour ago’ reveals and it really is just a string of big action set pieces strung together with the bare bones of a story. Here, she plays a very successful hit woman working for ‘The Firm’. Her mother, played by the equally wonderful Lena Heady, kinda ran out on her when she was young and she was subsequently brought up by one of the higher ups in The Firm to be... well... just like her mother. The film opens with a mostly absent action sequence which is continually referred back to throughout the film in which, due to bad instructions, she kills the son of the head of a criminal organisation. She then compounds the mistake by not recovering some stolen money but also by rescuing a young girl, aged 8 and three quarters and played by Chloe Coleman, whose father she also mistakenly killed.
And then, both the heads of rival criminal organisations want her out of the way and so she goes to borrow weaponry from three former associates (I’m simplifying for the sake of brevity here) at a library which specialises in firepower... played by another three big action names, Michelle Yeoh, Angela Bassett and Carla Gugino. Along the way, while protecting the newly orphaned child, she also reunites with her mother and, long story short, the six women fight back against the huge groups of assassins coming for them.
And it’s just a wonderful movie. Giving us a diner where people have to check their guns in, a library where people can check guns out and, eventually, leading us back to the diner... where many people get checked out. The chemistry between the actors and the wonderful dialogue they perform is top notch (even Michael Smiley gets a look in and, as for the representative for 'The Firm', it’s Paul Giamatti, ‘nuff said!) but even that pales in comparison to the absolutely wonderful mise en scène of the thing. It’s like a colourful, poppy comic book tapping into a vague noir thriller sensibility and then mixed liberally with a fair few spaghetti western tropes into the bargain. I knew I was in good hands when Gillan returns home at the start of the movie, opens the fridge and there’s a wonderful shot looking at her from inside the fridge which then tracks down from one shelve to the one below it in a smooth camera movement. Another great shot, which acts by way of an establishing shot, is when we are caught up with the aftermath scene of her character’s unfilmed mistake and the room full of carnage is viewed through the vertical rectangle of an open doorway surrounded by blackness at the centre of the wide screen ratio, the rectangle widening out slowly as the camera zooms in.
There’s some beautiful use of colour too, with a very bright palette of combined primaries which occasionally gives way to a frame which is purely infused with just one colour, such as red washing over the shot. This film goes for a full on eye candy approach which, when coupled with the rich sound design and beautifully choreographed action sequences, makes for a very seductive viewing experience.
There are some nice things I hadn’t seen here before too, including a scene where the kid has to help Gillan’s character because both her hands have been numbed but she has to get into a big fight and, similarly, because of the same reason, she has to help the child drive her car in a cat and mouse car chase in an interior car park. It’s good, inventive stuff and well worth a look, even for the most jaded action fans... and it doesn’t hurt that it has a warm heart beating at the story’s centre either.
And as for Frank Ilfman’s incredible score... well. It starts off really well with a theme made of five note melodic segments played on, what sounds to me, like a cimbalom (or something near to that). It’s used quite a lot in the early part of the movie but then, starting with a scene which itself has big ‘showdown eye’ moments reminiscent of a Sergio Leone spaghetti western, there's what sounds like either a sample or rerecording of the ‘we can fight’ chorus from Morricone’s score for that director’s A Fistful Of Dollars... as we are presented with a beautiful action cue that acts as an ‘homage with a beat’ to various Morricone scores, including a chime which has the same orchestral punctuation of the pocket watch chimes in For A Few Dollars More and some spots which glue the music together in the style of Edda Dell'Orso’s kick ass vocals for films like The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and Once Upon A Time In The West. It’s a wonderful cue which scores a fight in Gutterballs Bowling Alley (a reference to The Big Lebowski, perhaps) and, although two of the major action scenes use needle dropped songs to back them up, there is a lot of the Morricone influenced stuff in it and while the song which scores the slow motion fight at the diner is fine, it’s heavily preluded by a typical Morricone-esque showdown opener which Ilfman manages to pull off with a certain amount of style. I’ve heard other composers try to do this on occasion and, sometimes fail to keep the spirit without overly copying from the late, great Italian maestro.
And if that wasn’t enough, in a shootout scene about halfway through the movie, the four bad guys are wearing latex masks of the ‘big four’ Universal monsters... Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy and The Wolfman... culminating in a scene where Gillan violently despatches the 'Dracula dude' in the exact manner befitting his original counterpart (perhaps more in line with the way Hammer would do it, in terms of graphic violence). It’s not a subtle movie for sure but... it is very welcome.
And that’s all I’ve got to say right now about Gunpowder Milkshake. If you are a fan of action movies which have beautiful cinematography, great actors, a nice bit of scripting and some wonderful music, then you really can’t go wrong with this one. I just hope this one makes it onto Blu Ray at some point because I’m chomping at the bit to grab this one as soon as it comes out. A highly recommended, explosive beverage of a movie, for sure.