- Release Date: 25/02/2021
- Platform: Hulu
- Cast: Frank Grillo, Naomi Watts, Mel Gibson
- Director: Joe Carnahan
Roy Pulver (Frank Grillo), a Navy SEAL is married to Jemma (Naomi Watts) who is working on a top-secret science project known only as The Osiris Spindle. The project is overlooked by Colonel Clive Ventor (Mel Gibson). Ventor is not one bit impressed about Roy walking into Jemma’s lab one day to rekindle his marriage that is evidently on the blocks because of his frequent disappearance and excessive philandering. Jemma, who is under constant surveillance, tries to tell Roy something but is unable to get her word across.
Roy wakes up the following day to face a man with a machete trying to kill him right off the blocks. He soon realizes that he is stuck in an infinite loop wherein he gets to live the same day over and over again getting killed by an eclectic mix of assassins for reasons unknown to him. As he starts making progress after being repeatedly hunted by the same killers in similar fashions, he learns that his wife is dead. As the day keeps repeating, Roy is no closer to unearthing the reason behind his predicament and why so many killers are after his life. The biggest question for him and the audience is how he is able to relive the same day over and over again.
I love films like Boss Level where the director knows exactly what his film is and plays to its strength. Joe Carnahan also tries to maintain a sense of realism thereby respecting the audience’s intellect. I have seen countless films of this nature where the protagonist is stuck in infinite loops doing the same thing things over and over again before they can find a way within the loop that would take them somewhere else. The earliest “recent” example of it that I can think of was Source Code starring Jake Gyllenhaal. That was a deep, emotional, and shocking film that culminated in one of the most bizarre endings. Then there was also a film like Edge of Tomorrow starring Tom Cruise. That was a film that was not only lapped up by the audiences but was just as popular with the critics.
Boss Level uses the same tricks and ideas used in the films mentioned before but takes its own approach to storytelling. While the incidents shown here are happening in the life of a real person, the presentation resembles the feel and vibe of a video game wherein you play as the protagonist and are killed off again and again by a plethora of villains. The character of Roy respawns from the very beginning of the day every time he is killed and then can rectify his moves and make further progress in the story. This reminded me of games like Mario, Contra, etc from the glorious early days of video gaming. The fact that whatever Roy wants to do must be achieved in the finite time of one day makes for some interesting predicaments that he has to deal with separately as he moves along.
What I wasn’t expecting from this film was the kind of emotional depth that it brought to atleast two of its prolonged emotional sequences. The first happens when Roy visits Jemma in her lab and we understand the length to which their relationship is strained because of Roy’s absence and his philandering. We also realize through this sequence that there is still love between the two and later it is proved that Jemma trusted Roy with her life. Thus the initial sequence between the two assumes even more importance and is laced with a lot more emotional weight as we realize how important that exchange was to the story.
The next sequence that I loved was between Roy and his son played by Rio Grillo. Roy finally gets to spend some time with his son who doesn’t even know that Roy is his father. He was never present in his son’s life and development and now that he is stuck in a loop, he uses the predicament to make up for lost time with his son. This portion was not only heartwarming but also held a key element to push the narrative forward. How the plot point is revealed was also subtle and made a lot of sense.
Having said all that, a film like this is still dependent on its action and thrills. Boss Level has plenty of both. The narrative has colorful and bizarre killers peppered all around it. This will definitely remind the audiences of the various levels of a video game where there is a different threat at every level and the challenges increase as we move along. The exact same approach is taken here and it is executed with finesse and gusto which in turn ensures that the sequences have the desired impact. The fights between Roy and a Chinese assassin will both frustrate viewers and also bring a smile to their faces for reasons I wouldn’t disclose here. There are also subtle comic bits peppered throughout these action sequences that don’t make a mockery of the action and thrills but do add something more to the already interesting sequences. The visual rendering of the sequences are proficient and leaves little room for complaints.
Frank Grillo is the perfect protagonist for a film like this. He has the perfect balance of charm and physicality to make a character like Roy come to life in all its eccentricities and emotional depth. He holds his own in the action sequences and can be funny when he needs to be. The most important aspect of his character is that he looks battered and bruised throughout the film and yet somehow never feels repetitive. The fact that that particular look is the necessity of the story and suits him so well only adds to the charm of his essay. He holds his own in the emotional sequences that he shares with the character of Naomi Watts and Rio Grillo. These sequences add further credibility to his already exciting rendering of an unabashed action hero.
Mel Gibson, Naomi Watts, and Michelle Yeoh have glorified friendly appearances in the film and yet their characters are presented in such a way that it seems as if their essay is a lot more pronounced. They have their charisma and they do get their respective chances to shine. Selina Lo as the assassin Guan Yin will extract some genuine laughs from the audience. She might also frustrate the audience with her repetitive success against the protagonist.
Boss Level is not without its share of flaws. The film follows that same world-ending conspiracy trope that has become cannon fodder in films of this nature. A lot of the science that is shown is pseudo-science at best and the character that is supposed to know everything about it seems like someone who has no idea of what is happening. This hit the believability of the film and dilutes its seriousness to a certain extent. In a film like this, it is expected that realism will go for a toss but then some moments turn out to be too much to gulp down. There are also some patches of time in the story where it starts getting a little boring until the action kicks back in. The ending is predictable albeit it is reached through an interesting and innovative path.
The task of film critics is not only to give you some markers on recent releases but also to suggest films that may have slipped under the radar when they were released but are better than the current releases of a particular week. Boss Level is one such film. It is a better watch than Bunty Aur Babli 2 or Dhamaka on any given day. It is self-aware, entertaining, has good performances, and keeps you at the edge of your seats. Better still, it is available online and you can enjoy it from your couch. What more could you ask for?