Journalist, screenwriter, and producer Mark Boal has created a string of popular and successful movies in the past decades. After departing from a freelance career in journalism and screenwriting, he made his mark with the release of his 2009 film The Hurt Locker. A war thriller that took home the Academy Award for Best Picture, Director, and Original Screenplay, The Hurt Locker would eventually be selected for archiving at the Library of Congress due to its significance. Boal then wrote the movie Zero Dark Thirty, chronicling the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, and Triple Frontier. Zero Dark Thirty, too, was very successful. Boal, with an established niche and career under his belt, has now moved onto the small screen with the release of Echo 3 on Apple TV+. It is his debut on television.
Set in Colombia and the United States, Echo 3 continues the themes and storylines emerging in Boal’s other films and works. It features two military men launching their own rescue mission after their beloved sister and wife, a scientist, goes missing along the border of Venezuela and Colombia. The series was officially ordered by Apple for their streaming service in the summer of 2020, and it is an adaptation of an Israeli drama. Boal was attached from the beginning of the series’ conception. A year later, the two male leads were cast, and filming began. When the trailer dropped in October 2022, the series was officially slated for a release a month later in November 2022.
Echo 3 has two protagonists, who are portrayed by Dutch actor Michiel Huisman (Game of Thrones, The Flight Attendant) and Luke Evans (Beauty and the Beast, Pinnochio). They are joined in the cast by actress Jessica Collins, who portrays their missing sister and wife Amber. Bradley Whitford makes a brief appearance in the first episode of the series as Amber’s father. The series delves deep into the complex relationships between developing countries and the United States, especially in the context of drug wars. With dialogue in Spanish and English, Echo 3’s immersive elements feel like one is dropped into both worlds.
A Complicated Rescue Mission
Echo 3 begins in media res, with the opening scenes of the series having civilians being put on their knees with guns to their heads. That stark, harrowing moment that lingers between life and death pivots quickly, setting the stage for Echo 3’s context. Six months earlier, one of the women (Jessica Ann Collins), who was about to be executed, is preparing for a wedding. Her name is Amber, and before the grant event, she has quite a bit nerves. There is a good reason for that: she worries because her brother (Evans) and soon-to-be husband (Huisman) are deeply affiliated with the military. But, as it turns out, she should not be worried about them even if danger seems to follow wherever they went next when active as high-ranking officials.
Amber, who is an accomplished scientist who gives the series’ equivalent of Ted Talks to public audiences, goes missing in Colombia along its border with Venezuela. Her husband worries that something would happen to her when she goes, but she originally brushes off his concerns and believes that the addiction research she is doing is harmless and would not warrant her being killed. Her instinct proves wrong when armed men, who are a part of a local guerilla group, show up and ultimately take the group as hostages. The opening moments in episode one are Amber and her crew being rounded up by the men and preparing for potential executions, as a gunshot rings out before cutting to the next scene.
When her husband and brother find out what has happened and that her companions might have been executed, they decide to take matters into their own hands and head to Colombia to rescue her. The government and CIA would not be able to do it fast and efficiently enough, and with their combined experience, they’re the guys for the job. Flashbacks woven throughout the show the kind of missions and trauma these two have been through, and while a job like this is risky, especially considering the personal stakes involved, it is not something they think is impossible to do on their own. But, as their rescue attempt evolves and fails at times, the two will be put to the test as the stress and stakes continue to increase.
Her brother, Bambi, and husband, Prince, have a relationship that often involves them quarreling. Despite having a common background and shared experiences, there are tense scenes with the two busting out emotional heavyweights during dinner arguments with Amber present. A recent mission went poorly, creating an unexpected outcome, leading to even more tension between the two friends. Amber and Bambi also seemingly did not have the happiest childhood, as evident by their discussions with their parents and each other, and Prince, an outsider to the family, had much better than what they had. He grew up wealthy, and despite the slightly ridiculous naming going on with their characters, their names have a point. There is a reason Prince calls Bambi a redneck to make fun of him, echoing the privileges he has throughout his lifetime.
Repetitive Journeys in Echo 3
If there is one thing Echo 3 does well, it is a cinematic experience. Whether it is a tracking shot following a character or a subtle power dynamic established at the angle at which the camera is placed, the scenes flow and move beautifully. Sound, too, is nuanced but played up, whether it is jazz or the silence juxtaposed by a loud, explosive argument. These add to the urgency of the plot, as it feels like any minute that is wasted could be the one where Amber is tragically killed or harmed. At the same time, she is not delegated to the trope of a woman needing to be saved and is fully capable on her own. She handles the severity of her situation with grace and poise, prepared by the difficulties of her childhood. Even as her captors assume she is lying about her intentions in the country, she remains collected.
The first episode feels disjointed at times, switching between different periods and conflicts suddenly before finding its footing and pacing for the rest of the episodes. Echo 3 jumps back and forth between the past and present at will, making it not only disorienting but confusing as to what moment the current scene is set in. Perhaps this issue will be resolved in the later episodes, but currently, the show loses its footing by jumping around like this. While the acting is good and consistent throughout, some of the characters’ relationships are also called into question based on how believable they are. It becomes harder to be convinced that Bambi and Prince are friends, not just comrades.
At the same time, Echo 3 falls into the conventions of the genre and topic it tries to take on. The bad guys barely get any context as to why they are doing what they do, and thus the show partially falls victim to feeding into narratives about the region. This story is challenged partially by how Bambi and Prince go about things. They are not the perfect heroes who are going to fly to Colombia, swoop in, and save the day. These two are convinced that they are better than literally anyone else in the United States for the job, which requires a lot of arrogance to even fathom. As the later episodes begin to delve deeper into the nature of Amber’s research, their flaws become even more apparent–which, in the end, only makes them more human.
But outside of the series’ more negative traits, there is a lot to admire about it as well. The sweeping cinematography is gorgeous with shots of scenery around the characters. At times the camera gets up close and intimate with the actors, providing a different kind of shot that moves and shifts with the action. There is a lot to consider about the nature of class relations in the military, as well as the complexity that goes into situations like these. There are a lot of gray areas to consider, especially when it is an international operation like this one. However, as entertaining as those action scenes might be, if Echo 3 does not stop being repetitive and go beyond what it has already done, the visual and emotional journey may not have been worth it.
Echo 3’s first three episodes are available to stream on Apple TV+ as of November 23, 2022.