April 23rd, 2021
STARRING: GEORGINA CAMPBELL, LUKE BENWARD, MIDO HAMADA
DIRECTED BY: JONATHAN W. STOKES
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 2 ½ STARS (Out of 4)
Audiences have been seeing more movies that involve a few characters, isolated in one setting, and all that’s available is the acting in front of us to entertain. It works much better when the material is based on a stage production and the last ten years have proved that, with Fences, One Night In Miami, The Father, and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom all doing great things. In Jonathan W. Stokes’ Wildcat, the setting is a prison cell, where a journalist has been captured by a group of insurgents, led by a known terrorist by the name of Abu Khalid (Mido Hamada). He’s been responsible for bombing airports, government buildings, and now his group has successfully attacked a U.S. convoy, taking a journalist named Khadija Young (Georgina Campbell) as collateral. When she wakes, she is chained to a bed, and lying on the floor next to her is a U.S. soldier by the name of Luke (Luke Benward). He’s badly wounded and an added victim to the scenario. What follows is a break up of five chapters, all involving these two captives, their capturs, and the process they will go through in hopes to regain their freedom. Wildcat is a relatively engaging drama, where the characters are interesting enough, and the dramatics have intense scenarios that keep you alert to the end. It becomes a game of mental chess, with performances just good enough to take notice, especially when it’s been done much better before. I would claim that Wildcat has a lot of claws but not enough bite.
Off the bat, the reason why Wildcat works at all is because lead actor Georgina Campbell is a fascinating, charismatic, and enigmatic actor. Her performance is everything, because without her, there’s not much else. Written by Stokes, the narrative kicks off with bursts of fear being sent into the characters psyche, militant guards walking in, pushing their weight around, and providing minimal medical treatment. There are brief words exchanged with Khadija and Luke, but then the two are separated for questioning. Khadija is then tortured with the removal of her fingernails and then more painful interrogation from Khalid. The torture scenes are kept to a minimum of grueling display, allowing the dialogue to capture us. Instead of it being a blood bath, or torture porn, the intrigue lies within what these two characters know or don’t know about one another. Each new moment or detail steps closer to new information and a plan for Khadija to escape.
As far as this type of narrative goes, Wildcat falters when it veers away from the tense theater. Campbell is obviously a star, but our villain counterpart is all kinds of mysterious, while the wounded soldier is lacking in being a character to truly care about. It’s when Khadija reveals her intellect for the situation, revelations of what her real role is in the military, and what she knows about the people in the region, this is when Wildcat is cool. There’s a taste of a mysterious woman in our midst, but the soldier is drawn to be a prototypical looking male lead, engaging in a Stoclkholmy-style CW type romance, and an unlikely scenario of prisoner planning. The true attention belongs to debates between Khadija and Khalid, two minds trying to out smart one another with good cop, bad cop, scare tactics, and manipulation.
Like any movie that is in a lone setting, the problems for Wildcat mount up as the narrative becomes in need to be moved along. It’s not that there’s not enough there, especially when Khadija performs her Shawshank Redemption style acts, picking at a bed spring to use as a weapon, with hopes that one day it will present a moment to escape. It’s not that Wildcat moves too slow or fails to engage, it just tells a story that desperately would be relieved by characters being able to move outside the dungeons and tortures. Wildcat keeps itself inside a box for far too long and it desperately wants to get out.
The direction from Stokes works with what we have, but ultimately the praise belongs to Georgina Campbell, a TV BAFTA winner, but a newcomer to many of us stateside. The actress carries Wildcat, with a twitch of her eye, the shake of her lip, creating a character that not only fears for her life, but also has the fire to stay alive under pressure. That’s the main reason to see Wildcat. Some of the politics feel a bit outdated, where stories of middle east terrorists torturing Americans has been done better in films such as Body of Lies. Plus, recent films such as The Mauritanian or The Report have opened our eyes to the facts that it’s no longer a one sided narrative, a good vs. evil scenario. The lines are blurred. Wildcat still wins for the effort and also reveals how a movie such as Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom can become even more impressive when the entire cast delivers great performances. Great acting goes a long way, this Wildcat is just a little bit too tame.
WILDCAT is in select theaters April 23rd and On Digital and On Demand April 27th.
2 ½ STARS
Written by: Leo Brady