Headshot review

Iko Uwais may not be a household name in the U.S. just yet, but among fans of a certain type of action movie he’s a superstar. The Indonesian actor and martial artist burst onto the scene with Merantau and had an even bigger breakthrough in The Raid. Headshot, from directors Timo Tjahjanto and Kimo Stamboel (collectively known as the Mo brothers, though they are not actual brothers), has Uwais doing what he does best — kicking ass and taking names — with spectacularly entertaining results. 

In terms of story, Headshot is essentially a Bourne Identity retread. Uwais plays a mysterious man who washes up ashore with no memory of who he is or where he came from. With the help of a kind young doctor named Ailin (Chelsea Islan), he starts to get better and build a new life under a new name, Ishmael (as in Moby Dick). But he’s haunted by unsettling flashbacks, and his past comes knocking in the form of a royally pissed criminal kingpin (Sunny Pang) and his team of highly skilled assassins.

Headshot is at its weakest when it shifts its focus away from the action. A tentative romantic subplot between Ishamel and Ailin feels like it was spliced in from a bad soap opera. It’s kinda cute, but laughably cheap and cheesy in a way the rest of the movie isn’t, and neither Uwais nor Islan seem especially comfortable slipping into that lighter mode. And the reveals about Ishamel’s history, shocking though they are, don’t land with as much emotional impact as they could have.

Headshot review

But none of that matters all that much, because what Headshot really is is a long string of excuses to watch Uwais punch himself out of sticky situations. As with The Raid, the story is just a vehicle for stunning action setpieces, building up to an inevitable boss fight at the end. And Headshot delivers, with flying colors (and fists and feet and bullets). Uwais reminds us yet again why he’s one of the most exciting action heroes we have working today. As an actor he’s perfectly fine, letting his natural screen presence do most of the heavy lifting as a strong but silent type, but as a fighter he’s a master of expression through movement.

In Headshot, he’s aided by a camera as ostentatiously acrobatic as the performers. There were several shots that left me wondering how the Mo brothers and their team managed to pull them off — some because of the way the camera moved, some because the effects were so sickeningly realistic. A thrumming score keeps the pace, while the soundscape relishes in bone-crunching and flesh-pounding. The Mo brothers’ indulgence applies to the running time as well. At two hours, Headshot does start to feel overlong, and the energy begins to flag toward the end. The penultimate fight particularly drags, because it depends on an emotional depth that the film hasn’t really earned.

Still, Headshot‘s big promises are no-holds-barred violence and a sky-high body count, and the Mo brothers dish that out with gleeful generosity. So much of the fun comes from the resourcefulness born of desperation. Turns out when you’re caught in a corner with a madman out for blood, anything and everything can be a weapon, including furniture and office supplies. Even when guns are in play, they’re often used in surprising ways: the recoil becomes a punch in the stomach, the smoking barrel a burning brand. Headshot stops somewhere short of mind-blowing, especially if you’ve seen Uwais in action before, but it’s another thoroughly satisfying showcase for his talents.

/Film rating: 8.0 out of 10

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