London, 1975. If you thought your life had its fair share of troubles, imagine what the folks who lived during the 30-year ordeal known formally as The Troubles dealt with on a daily basis. Paranoia, threats of violence, spies everywhere — this is the setting of Dead Shot, which is now in theaters and on demand. Co-starring Aml Ameen and Colin Morgan with acclaimed actors Mark Strong and Felicity Huffman, the new political thriller from brothers Charles and Thomas Guard has its moments, despite the fact that a number of characters and subplots run a bit thin.
However, the dual protagonists, familiar faces, unique setting, and occasional gripping action sequences make it worth tuning in for.
Dual Protagonists with Moral Ambiguities
It’s always intriguing to watch movies or TV shows where the protagonist is ultimately a villain at the end of the day. “I could use a dead shot like you,” says police anti-terrorist chief Holland (Mark Strong) to Tempest (Aml Ameen) early on — hence the film’s title. Tempest is just one of two central protagonists in Dead Shot, which is one of the film’s unique strengths.
The other leading man is ex-IRA terrorist Michael (Colin Morgan), whose pregnant wife is accidentally shot to death by Tempest during the film’s opening sequence, a border crossing gone wrong. The rest of the film plays out in a sort of gritty revenge tale, where we’re not sure whether to root for Tempest, Michael, both, or neither.
The IRA was an Irish republican military force that sought to end British rule in Northern Ireland from the late ’60s until the late ’90s. It was the most active republican paramilitary group during the Troubles, which is the basis of Dead Shot, as Michael makes his way into a paranoid and violence-stricken London to track down his wife’s killer, Tempest. Michael meets up with IRA photographer Catherine (Felicity Jones) along the way and learns more about Tempest’s whereabouts through her.
Meanwhile, Tempest faces bigotry from his colleagues and is ultimately recruited by Holland (Mark Strong), the head of a police anti-terrorist squad, to track down IRA members and — well, you know, take it from there. It’s a tough assignment, and Holland is hard on him, but Tempest needs to take it on to avoid being persecuted for killing an unarmed woman, aka Michael’s deceased wife.
Who Needs a Happy Ending, Anyway?
Achieving the ’70s-in-London look is no small feat for an indie project, as the Guard brothers recently told MovieWeb. But Dead Shot pulls it off, thanks to the retro cars and old-school wardrobes aplenty. As a police head, Mark Strong (Zero Dark Thirty, Tár) certainly looks the part thanks to his hairpiece and cold-blooded demeanor here. It’s a role he could play in his sleep, but he’s always welcome for a gritty British project like Dead Shot.
And speaking of, Felicity Jones’ supporting role doesn’t require all that much from her, but as a co-executive producer of the film as well, it’s great to see her in action despite the fact that she’s tackled much meatier roles over the years; here’s looking at you, Rogue One and The Theory of Everything.
That’s not to say leading men Aml Ameen and Colin Morgan don’t hold their own as the more leading characters. One highlight of Morgan’s performance comes when his character Michael tracks down Tempest’s oblivious girlfriend Ruth (a standout Sophia Brown, who undoubtedly has a bright Hollywood future ahead of her) at her place of business. There’s a shocking moment of violence here — but as it turns out, it was all in Michael’s head. It’s moments like these that keep up the momentum in Dead Shot, which sometimes falters when it focuses on less important characters we’re not exactly interested in. You’ll see what we mean…
These suspenseful sequences, plus some thrilling shootouts on the streets of London here and there, are aided by a haunting soundtrack that the Guard brothers use wisely to heighten the drama. And on the music front, the not-so-happy ending is capped off by an eerie song by a popular band that we won’t spoil. But it’ll make your heart race as the credits roll — in a good way.
Leading up to these end credits is a final showdown between Michael and Tempest on a beach. This is where the Guard brothers’ intended moral ambiguity of its central characters really shines through, as these violent gents are at a crossroads on an external and internal level. Will violence solve their internal suffering? These moments of humanity are aided by a sleek combination of handheld and graceful static camerawork, so to that end, Dead Shot looks pretty darn good on a visual level.
From Quiver Distribution, Dead Shot is now in theaters and on demand.