When it comes to the world of modern action cinema, David Leitch has become something of a legend. Bursting onto scenes in 2014 with “John Wick”, he began making a name for himself; with films like “Atomic Blonde” and “Deadpool 2” under his belt. Alongside director Ilya Naishuller and “John Wick” veteran writer Derek Kolstad, he released “Nobody” this year – a delightfully fun romp full of bare-knuckled brutality and a healthy dose of comical levity. In fact, we consider it to be the best action film we’ve seen so far this year.
Now, he brings us “Kate”. A ticking clock thriller directed by Cedric Nicolas-Troyan. One involving an assassin battling against a horde of Yakuza scum. All set to a brightly lit neon colour landscape of Tokyo. It’s a little hard not to compare “Kate” to Leitch’s “John Wick” and “Atomic Blonde”. So, does “Kate” hold a candle to its older siblings? Can Leitch keep up his golden streak, or will this be his first major blunder? Grab your shotgun and katana, and let’s find out!
Much like Leitch’s other films, “Kate” isn’t really interested about taking its time in building backstory through prolong exposition. Rather, the film simply drops us right in the middle of the action with the story going from zero to eighty in a matter of mere moments. There are occasional flashbacks but they barely take up much time. What the film does focus on is fleshing out the various warring factions in the Japanese underworld. This, of course, includes plenty of machiavellian plots, not-so-shocking betrayals and lots of Japanese themed weapons. Seriously, do these people just walk around with katanas and tantos (Japanese sword) strapped around their belts?!
Does “Kate” feel like the prolonged third act of “Kill Bill Vol. 1” made into a feature length film? The answer is a resounding yes. So with the plot locked on squarely moving the action along at breakneck speed, how does the film find time to humanise Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s super-assassin? Why, a child sidekick of course! To be fair, this isn’t a terrible way to inject some emotional stakes into the plot. It worked out well in “Sweet Tooth”. Unfortunately, Kate’s relationship with her hostage-turned-partner, Ani, is a rushed and cliched arc that does little to inspire.
“Birds of Prey” had a similar runtime of an hour and forty minutes with a million and one characters in it and it still made time to develop Harley’s relationship with Cassandra. Therefore, no excuses. There are some moments of bubbly levity between the two and the plot device of Kate’s poison adds a little more depth to their relationship. Now, if the plot would commit to “Kate” being a solo adventure with Winstead carrying the whole thing, then the lightning-fast pacing would be justified. The introduction of a secondary lead though complicates things when the plot has to attempt to sell us on Kate’s growth as a big sister. Sorry writers, you can’t have your crack-filled high octane cake and eat your character development at the same time.
Speaking of the titular Kate, we love Winstead’s performance as the stoic assassin with the heart of gold. Since her role as Ramona Flowers in 2010’s “Scott Pilgrim v. the World”, we’ve seen her grow as an actress. She’s moved away from her campier days into some heavier roles and has shown in films like “10 Cloverfield Lane” that she is a force to be reckoned with. If anyone could nail an emotionally reserved warrior broken by the fear of death and love, it’s definitely her. Which is why it’s such a shame that she’s hampered by the film’s mediocre writing. Given the right material, she would have absolutely crushed it.
As for her sidekick Ani, the best compliment we can give her is that we didn’t find her insufferably annoying. This is the teen actress’ feature film debut and she certainly does better than Addison Rae in “He’s All That”. She does have some really endearing moments of sass in the film when she’s not screaming our ears off. There’s definitely potential there. Woody Harrelson is in the film and he plays well…Woody Harrelson in every other film. If you’re thinking short-tempered, grizzled uncle-like characters then yes friend, you are on the money! We wished a little more was done with his Harrelson’s Varrick beyond the predictable route they took with him. Trust us, you’ll see the twist coming a mile away.
From choppy pacing to underdeveloped characterisation, so much has been sacrificed on the altar of action. Is the trade-off worth it? Fine, it is. “Kate” knows what action afficianados want and leans right into it. One thing we absolutely abhor are heavily edited fight sequences filmed to blurry shaky cams. There’s none of that bullshit here! Much like Leitch’s other films, Kate uses its R-rating to deliver bone-breaking, blood-soaked brawls with impressive hand-to-hand choreography. We especially enjoyed one visceral fight involving broken wine glasses and a pair of scissors. It’s not quite a pencil but it is still very f**king cool.
By the way, kudos to Winstead for being so heavily involved in all of her stunts. There are close to no cutaways with her being right there in the thick of it. However, she quite can’t match the frenetic energy of folks like Keanu Reeves or Charlize Theron from “Atomic Blonde”. It’s not from a lack of effort mind you. Some scenes calling for rapid reflexes sees her lagging behind with the actors having to sell her performance through their reaction. One could argue that her character was poisoned, therefore Kate isn’t supposed to be functioning at full force. Still, it does break immersion from time to time.
Netflix’s “Kate” is at its best when its speaks through its impressive and visceral action sequences. It helps to drown out the disjointed story and mediocre script. There’s definitely a future for actress Mary Elizabeth Winstead in the realm of action cinema, and the proof is in the messy blood-soaked pudding. If you’re looking for another fun and disturbing femme fatale action thriller, we recommend checking out “Revenge”. Now that’s how you do it!
So what did you think of Netflix’s “Kate”? Who do you think would win a fight between Kate, John Wick and Lorraine from “Atomic Blonde”? Be sure to let us know in the comments!
Netflix's "Kate" Review
Netflix's "Kate" is at its best when its speaks through its impressive and visceral action sequences. It helps to drown out the disjointed story and mediocre script. There's definitely a future for actress Mary Elizabeth Winstead in the realm of action cinema, and the proof is in the messy blood-soaked pudding.
- Netflix's "Kate" Review