Review: Message from the King (TIFF 2016)
PLOT: A man (Chadwick Boseman) from South Africa travels to L.A to find out what happened to his estranged sister. After finding her brutally tortured corpse in the morgue, he sets out to solve her murder and take brutal revenge.
REVIEW: MESSAGE FROM THE KING is an especially interesting film to watch now that star Chadwick Boseman’s got the Marvel tent-pole BLACK PANTHER on the way. While hardly a newcomer, and having already played the character to acclaim in CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR, this is the first time audiences will be able to see Boseman carry his own action flick, and the results are very promising.
A kind of action/neo-noir hybrid, Boseman’s hero, Jacob King, is the type of tough guy we used to routinely see in nineties-era action movies, before the plots got too outlandish and the hero’s abilities got too exaggerated. While more-than-physically capable and a total bad-ass, King isn’t invincible, having to think his way out of dangerous situations his brawn can’t save him from. There’s a beautiful simplicity to director Fabrice Du Welz’s film, with plenty of tight, real-word action scenes sprinkled in, but nothing too over-the-top, making this appealingly retro.
Boseman is in practically every scene and owns the screen. Sporting a Capetown accent and a cool brown leather jacket, he’s nobody’s fool, telling immigration officials early on (who think he’s coming to work illegally) “I have no intention of working.” We see him piece together the details of his sister’s murder, bringing him in-contact with a rogues gallery that includes Luke Evans’s crooked but slick dentist and Alfred Molina’s pedophile Hollywood producer, all of who will feel King’s wrath.
Mostly free of gun-play, King uses his fists and a cool chain he employs to great ass-kicking effect when needed. Reminding me of Wesley Snipes in his prime or a more laid-back Jason Statham, Boseman moves well and handles the close-combat scraps better than most contemporary action stars. Du Welz shoots them in an admirably low-key way, with nice touches such as a goon getting his jaw broken by King early on, and spending the rest of the movie with it wired shut.
For the most part, MESSAGE FROM THE KING avoids cliches, with the exception being the requisite hooker with a heart-of-gold (played by the too-pretty-for-the-part Teresa Palmer) who has an adorable kid and, of course, winds up in jeopardy. The baddies are all pretty solid, with Evans, despite his physicality, in a non-fighting part, while Molina chews scenery as the producer who’s terrified by his evil organization crashing down around him. Natalie Martinez also finds some interesting notes to play as a femme fatale with a conscience (maybe) while Tom Felton is impressive in a cameo as a low-life coke dealer.
Despite a modest budget, MESSAGE FROM THE KING looks great, with gorgeous cinematography by Monica Lenczewska and a really effective score by Vincent Cahay and Felix Penny. Boseman’s performance probably helped get the film acquired by Netflix, which will likely make an ideal home for this actioner, which will no doubt take a lot of people by surprise. It’s one of the nice little sleepers to come out of the fest, and it also proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Boseman is a real-deal action hero.