All show and no substance in this wobbly action flick
A filmmaker cannot please everyone. The element of subjectivity is probably the most profound and flustering part of the movie-going experience. Some are bound to like a film; others will not. However, there must be universal standards of objectivity that can guide the rating of a film.
It is just what Dwight Schrute from The Office proposes in the episode where Pam gets pregnant and feels down about she looks. And they do exist. When measured against those standards, the new action film Carter on Netflix comes up agonizingly short. Woeful execution, a hollow core, and a lack of organization and direction lead to its downfall. Ultimately, it is only made for a certain kind of viewer who relishes keep-your-brains-at-home action flicks and just wants a stress buster.
It can be argued whether Carter induces or reduces stress but let’s talk about the plot first. John Woo plays the titular character, who wakes up naked in bed surrounded by a special ops team. Carter has a mysterious cross sign on the back of his head and cannot remember anything; not how he got there, his identity, or what happened the previous night.
The team demands to know the location of Professor Jung, who formulates a groundbreaking cure for the DMZ virus plaguing the world. Carter uploaded a video holding Jung hostage. Suddenly, a phone rings from the closet in his jacket. He answers it and the voice commands him to give it to one of the members. The phone explodes; so does the room, but Carter is able to escape with the help of the same voice, implanted in his ear.
Clearly, something is on as he fights off hundreds of criminals and assassins to do what the voice tells him to do. From there on in, Carter spirals into a manic chase story that breaks boundaries of conventional filmmaking with familiar elements of story comprising the exposition.
Surprisingly, the majority of the film takes place in the course of one day, albeit within the confines of a backdropped narrative stretched over years of political turmoil and enmity between North and South Korea. Their rivalry has been the subject of many efforts trying to bring out something more than what meets the eye.
JSA (Park Chan-wook), The Spy Gone North (Yoon Jong-bin), and Escape from Mogadishu (Ryoo Seung-wan) are some great examples. In Carter’s story as well it plays an important part. The manner in which it manifests, though, does not spring a lot of surprises but plays a defining role in shaping Carter’s background.
It is an essential tool used for character development, while also providing the plot with enough tension to keep the effort going. Jung Byung-gil also uses the ambiguity in Carter’s allegiance intelligently to position him right in the middle of our judgment. We aren’t too sure what to make of him in that regard.
When his daughter gets involved in the mission, there is an emotional vulnerability for Carter. We empathize with a father looking to save his daughter at all costs. This feeling is probably what becomes the most compelling feature of the chase. The CIA also heavily dictates the final outcome. The tangent introduced midway through the film loosely resembles Netflix’s The Gray Man. With so much information and moving parts, Jung’s job becomes more complicated as he tries to tie all of them together.
Even we as viewers have trouble making sense of the double and triple agent trope that is excessively used by Gil. Not knowing who belongs where is one thing. But pointing the needle at literally every person in the universe is completely bonkers. There is so much changing of priorities and shifting of focus that Carter – the film – becomes delirious after a point in time. It seems that the lack of clarity really pushes the film further away from materializing into a consistent, substance-led narrative. After you finish it, there is probably rewinding back to parts to completely understand what just happened.
The most annoying thing about it, by far, was the drone shots. The cinematography was really disappointing in the sense that it was overused. Some shots are well served by using the technique. It certainly makes those situations conveniently manageable. But what Carter does is keep falling back on it to make the film like a video game. There is no craftsmanship or nuance in how the story is told.
Carter remains true to its tag of being an out-and-out action flick. There is so much killing and washed-up men that those who enjoyed The Princess from Hulu last month would be treated well. For others though, Carter is probably best avoided.
Verdict - 5/10