ONE SHOT Review: Unrelenting Military Action From Scott Adkins
Action star Scott Adkins and director James Nunn are two individuals who don’t let the labels of the film industry define them or the work they produce. Both have been frustratingly relegated to a tier in the movie-making system where the only way to get a film project approved is if it can be completed quickly and with a modest budget. Many, when faced with these circumstances, cut corners and lower their ambitions, content just to get something locked in before moving on to the next “for hire” gig. Nunn and Adkins are a different breed though. When faced with these limitations, both men have always strived, through thoughtful preparation and an intense work ethic, to make the highest quality film possible every time they have the opportunity. So, it’s not surprising that when the two have collaborated in the past that their combined efforts have delivered strong results. Admittedly, both of their previous films together, GREEN STREET HOOLIGANS: UNDERGROUND (aka GREEN STREET 3) and ELIMINATORS, are not the most well-known of either of their filmographies. They are however well-crafted films that show neither man is content with just getting everything completed on time and under budget. Nunn and Adkins want to raise the bar for what is possible with lower-budget action films. With their latest collaboration, ONE SHOT, they have done just that.
The film, a long-time passion project for Nunn, tells the story of a Navy Seal team, led by Adkins’ character Jake Harris, that has been tasked with escorting a CIA analyst (Ashley Greene, the TWILIGHT series) to retrieve a suspected terrorist, Amin Mansur (Waleed Elgadi, MOSUL), from a government black site in an effort to determine the details of a planned attack on American soil in hopes of preventing it from ever taking place. Before they can fully extract the prisoner though, the site is besieged by insurgents looking to silence Mansur. Now, Harris and his team have to battle their way out of the location and protect Mansur at all costs.
That is a strong premise for an action film but what made this a dream project for James Nunn was his desire to present the story in real-time and in one continuous tracking shot. A film packed with gunfire, explosions, and hand-to-hand confrontations presented in such a way is a massive undertaking for even the largest of film productions, and to attempt it with a small budget and a tight shooting schedule would have to be nearly impossible, right? Well, no one told that to James Nunn and Scott Adkins. They not only pulled it off but they also have given viewers one of the best action films of the year.
ONE SHOT is, of course, not actually filmed all in one sequence though. Logistics and obvious safety concerns would prevent that from being possible no matter how much time and money was invested into it. The appearance of that however is convincingly created by having several long sequences seamlessly pieced together to create the needed illusion. This is not a new concept for a film but to see it done so expertly at this budget level is breathtaking. Invariably, these sort of films become a game of “spot the cut” but to the film’s credit nearly all of the transitions are incredibly hard to notice and the film itself is so engaging that by the fifteen-minute mark the viewer won’t even be trying to pick them out. They will be too wrapped up in the visceral feeling the illusion creates as the camera (physically wielded by director of photography Jonathan Iles) nimbly moves between the soldiers and the insurgents during the film’s bloody and extended conflict.
The action and stunt work that make up so much of that conflict is not typically what you would imagine when seeing Scott Adkins’ name on a film. There are no flashy jump kicks or stylized martial arts stand-offs here. Every action beat in ONE SHOT is tinged with a tactical reality that makes every gun battle a tense affair where the number of bullets in a clip is a nail-biting affair and any one-on-one fight is conducted with savage desperation where all that matters is who can deliver a killing blow with a combat knife first. The work on display by stunt coordinator Dan Styles (AVENGEMENT), fight choreographer Tim Man (TRIPLE THREAT), and tactical/military adviser Tim Leigh during these exemplary violent sequences cannot be praised enough. The amount of intricacy and detail here considering the lengthy nature of the shots is mind-boggling.
The secret weapon of ONE SHOT though (and one that will likely be overlooked when discussing its merits) is the surprisingly nuanced script by first-time feature writer Jamie Russell (based on Nunn’s original story idea). The script could have been one where everything was painted in very broad, black and white strokes but to its credit it allows characters to exist as more than just plot devices or exposition machines. The script not only addresses the futile, cyclical nature of “The War on Terror” it also allows all the main characters human, relatable moments that flesh out the experience. Whether, for example, it’s getting to hear Mansur explain the tragic series of events that led to him being a captive of the CIA or brief bits of banter and camaraderie between the SEAL team so that, as their numbers invariably dwindle, the audience feels each loss despite not actually having spent that much time with them- there are numerous details present that illustrate the script’s thoughtful approach to character which helps propel ONE SHOT into becoming a truly special example for the genre.
The cast all do very strong work with the words they are given as well (though there are a few slightly off line readings where, unavoidably, the long uninterrupted takes were a detriment). Scott Adkins has for many years now been severely underappreciated as an actor but here again, he proves that when given the opportunity, even with a faux-American accent, he has the chops to carry a film with heavy dramatic elements. While the film has strong performances from Adkins and the rest of the cast, including Ryan Phillipe (WAY OF THE GUN) and Terence Maynard (EDGE OF TOMORROW), the stand-out is Waleed Elgadi as the captive Mansur. He has the thankless role of being a living, breathing Macguffin for the story and he is never anything less than utterly believable and sympathetic in the role. It’s a phenomenal performance that will catch many viewers off guard.
To sum it up, ONE SHOT is a triumph; a tense expertly made action thriller and a technical marvel that overachieves in every aspect of its production. James Nunn and Scott Adkins have once again defied the limitations placed on them, but even then, they have never done it as boldly as they have here with ONE SHOT. The pair have turned in a film that has completely redefined what is possible for modestly budgeted action films and is without a doubt one of the best of their respective careers. (4/5)
ONE SHOT will be available In Theaters & On Demand on November 5, 2021.
Currently residing in Nashville, TN, he also co-hosts the film podcast "Video Culture" (available on all podcast platforms). He can be reached at "WheelsCritic@gmail.com" and on Twitter: @WheelsCritic
ONE MORE SHOT Reteams Scott Adkins, Michael Jai White And James Nunn For 'One Shot' Sequel | Film Combat Syndicate
February 18, 2023 @ 9:14 am
[…] to escort a suspected terrorist from a black site. Our own Matthew Essary tuned in last year with a review underscoring one key facet of the film’s successful […]