Born in Oxford, action thriller Born of War premièred in the city this week. A Hollywood calling-card for local director Vicky Jewson, and a film which belies its budget.
Mina is an Oxford University student whose normal life is upended when her parents are murdered in their family home. British intelligence believe it’s the work of her real father, a terrorist who wants her back. Minded by an ex-agent (James Frain), Mina agrees to be the bait to bring the rebel down. But nothing is quite as it seems.
Beginning in the Wakhan Corridor with a bomb attack on a rebel community, Born of War pitches its international credentials from the off. But it really shifts into top gear with a bravura, extended attack on Mina’s family home, and its aftermath, an edge of seat chase. Shot with horror-thriller intensity, knives, guns, and flaming gas are all deployed as Mina and her parents (an excellent cameo from Michael Maloney) fend off their assailants.
Breathless and believable, it’s a ballsy start to the film. And it cleverly carries us through the credibility-gap which can hamper many a movie. But Born of War’s other big plus is Sofia D’Elia Black (Skins) as Mina. Rooting the film, D’Elia Black nails the disorientation and the anger. So when she fires an AK47 out of a sunroof, you don’t chortle into your popcorn as director Jewson has already deftly done the groundwork.
So while fight choreographer (and ex-Oxford Brookes student) Joey Ansah (Bourne Ultimatum) has done a solid job, the visceral action is in the detail – Mina improvising with a CD cracked in half to slice at a throat, a groin. A head held to a burning gas-jet, with predictably unpleasant results, not unlike The Raid 2.
A car chase, a hand-to-hand fight in the confines of a speeding jet, the action scenes aren’t prolific – and don’t have the budget of a Greengrass Bourne, or a Taken or the forementioned Raid 2, all made by Euro filmmakers. But it’s to Jewson’s credit that, with tight editing and credible characters, you believe it.
And a colourful palette creates an international Bond and Bourne effect. Sun-drenched scenes, filmed in Jordan, contrast with the icy blue of London interiors, keeping the visuals active. Harnessing the help of Jordanian Special Forces to blow stuff up was also a coup for Jewson.
Born of War exemplifies her approach to action – filming it as someone who actually likes no-frills thrillers. And demonstrating that Kathryn Bigelow (Point Break, Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty) is not the only person out there proving that women can direct good action films. Given a heftier budget in future, Jewson’s inventiveness will surely lead to bigger bangs for the bucks.