There’s a quote that always comes to mind when I watch the left-for-dead genre of any action/thriller, “You come at the king, you best not miss..."
...Of course, Omar from The Wire and Ralph Waldo Emerson never had to contend with an Army ranger hellbent on revenge, which is exactly what happens in Stephen Durham’s Army of One.
This time, though, the vengeful Army ranger isn't played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, or other big name action stars of the ‘80s. This badass is named Brenner—1st Lieutenant Brenner Baker, to be exact—played by the absolutely amazing Ellen Hollman (Spartacus).
Out for blood after witnessing the death of her husband Dillon (Matt Passmore, Jigsaw) and narrowly avoiding death herself at the hands of an Alabama cartel, Brenner decides to take them all down one by one with bloody results.
This isn’t your typical action thriller with explosions and gunfire. Instead, Durham went for a slow burn with bloody fists and enough detail and pacing to make his film feel like a start to finish thrill ride.
A surprise comes midway through the film when Brenner rescues Emily (Kendra Carelli, Room 104). With this, the classic revenge tale takes on a new path and delivers some of the strongest character moments between Carelli and Hollman as the two women bond and take a moment to breathe in the respite.
The characters never feel like caricatures, in part due to Durham and co-writers Mary Ann Barnes, David Dittlinger and the film’s star Ellen Hollman’s script humanizing what could, in other hands, easily have turned into hillbilly exploitation ala Deliverance. This is especially true when presented with the main villain of Mama (Geraldine Singer Get Out), but it's Singer’s performance with the script that gives Mama a southern charm that makes her both inviting and menacing at the same time. You can feel the power she exudes over the large men that surround her and the respect she is given by the locals that make the operation feel like an Alabama mafia.
Rounding out the family are characters like Butch (Gary Kasper, Ring of Steel) who is large and very much the lead of the thugs under Mama’s employ. Kasper delivers a very physical performance thanks to both his size and power he commands on screen that makes Butch one of the more memorable goons even if his appearance is a brief one.
To step in Butch’s shoes and counteract the living, breathing killing machine, Mama brings in Hank (Stephen Dunlevy). Whereas Kasper plays Butch as the sort of dog off the leash, Dunlevy plays the militaristic big brother type of the group, exuding the authoritative attention needed to deal with Brenner.
It's not surprising that most of the actors that play Mama’s boys in this film work in the stunt business, as there are some great stunt moments—the fight choreography was an especial standout—and with a stunt crew like Kenny Bartram (Logan) and Leon Ngo (Black Panther) to name a few, it's no wonder it feels so polished and like a well-choreographed dance.
But what’s a good action/thriller without some great music? Marie Gabrielle’s music captures that feeling of being out in the country with hints of blues and folk commonly seen in the south merged together to create a unique sound. It adds to the charm of the film and really goes to show the level of attention to detail that was put into making it.
Army of One is an action-packed thriller with strong female lead performances. The love and care for its subject matter is evident across every area, and Ellen Hollman is an action star in the making. I look forward to seeing her kick ass in The Matrix 4.
Joining the ranks of other vigilante heroines as seen in films such as Peppermint, The Brave Ones, Coffy, and Kill Bill, Durham’s Army of One is an enjoyable ride of an action film that will leave you cheering and crying by its end. After all, no one is safe when it comes to revenge. As the old saying goes, “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.”
Army of One comes to DVD and Digital from Uncork’d Entertainment on December 15th.
By Kalani Landgraf