SAS Red Notice might be full of explosive situations, but the only real fuse burning through its story-line is Sam Heughan ‘s performance.
What is SAS Red Notice about? Spoiler Alert
We jump into action in the Republic of Georgia where a handful of guerrillas nicknamed the Swans “clear” a village whose inhabitants don’t want to sell their land to the investors into a new gas pipeline. Three of the Swans are brought forward, William Lewis, the father (Tom Wilkinson, solid in his role), his daughter Grace (Ruby Rose), and his son, Oliver (Owain Yeoman).
It is the Swans decision, Grace’s to be precise, to “kill the men and the boys. Let the women spread the fear.” But one Georgian girl shoots a video of Grace Lewis on a backdrop of explosions, burned homes, and torched innocent villagers, and the video goes viral, Grace’s image filling the newspapers.
The Swans are now labeled as terrorists and must be arrested for crimes against humanity, everyone points at them, including those who hired them, the British Government. Chased out of their mansion in Hampstead, the Swans take over the Euro train, bringing it to an abrupt halt under the English Channel. Their demands are clear. The UK Prime Minister must acknowledge on Live TV that the British Government is behind the “clearing” in Georgia and has ordered Special Air Services, SAS, to hire the Swans to do their dirty job, as well as to wire 500 million dollars into the Swans bank account OR… Or an incriminating video exposing the chain in command and linking the UK Prime Minister with the Swans will leak on social media platforms.
There is only one man to do the job and he falls into it willy-nilly, Tom Buckingham (Sam Heughan).
Tom Buckingham is a SAS operator. We meet him on his breathtaking estate (and it does make you wonder why he is an SAS member since he’s got all those money). But Tom is a softie, or he just looks like one in the beginning. He plans to propose to his girlfriend, Dr. Sophie Hart (Hannah John-Kamen), with his grandmother, his Nana’s ring. It is a special ring, that “great Henry Buckingham chopped from the finger of the Maharajah during the great mutiny,” and then offered it to Nana. (Here I wondered if the ring was special to Tom because it was his Nana’s, or because of its bloody story – which would tell us something about Tom’s character).
Tom and Sophie’s plans to fly to Paris (where he secretly wishes to propose to her) are blown off by his last-minute involvement in the tracking of the terrorists, the Swans. So Tom and Sophie take the train instead, the Eurostar, to Paris. It is the same Eurostar the Swans took to fulfill their plan, force the Prime Minister to pay them the ransom, and clear their name.
After the Swans high jacked the train and passengers got wounded, Dr. Sophie jumped to their aid. Already aware of whom he has to deal with, Tom Buckingham fights the terrorists single-handed, explosions blasting left and right. Eventually, a team of SAS is sent to assist, while more terrorists arrive on sight, in the tunnel.
The UK Government (represented by Sir Charles Whiteside with a personal interest in the British Gas pipeline) agrees to pay the ransom money (but without broadcasting it) and all that’s left to be done is for Grace Lewis to be killed by SAS so that no word ever escapes of the SAS involvement and chain of traitors.
Tom’s only wish is to save his girlfriend and to propose to her, but knowing that she will never leave casualties behind he knows has to save everyone on the train as well. That’s why when Grace Lewis reels him in Tom goes willingly, to save his girlfriend.
It is now that we witness what else the British Government has been hiding in their side of the tunnel, as well as how long the chain of SAS traitors is. And one of them will have to be the UK Government’s scapegoat. But which one?
On the outside, the SAS and the UK Government comply with the terrorists’ plans and it looks as if they will save the passengers, and they will be successful in capturing the terrorists, the Swans.
While from the inside of the tunnel Tom Buckingham realizes that “this isn’t about the money, it’s about revenge,’ and that Grace Lewis will never keep up her word, save the civilians, yet she will never surrender either.
In the end, only Grace Lewis, Dr. Sophie, and Tom Buckingham are left standing, with Tom, wounded and on foot, chasing after Grace through snowed woods. In one last attempt Grace tries to convince Tom and bring him onto her side, turn him into a (black) Swan.
She seems to fail, as Tom finally kills her, but what we are left wondering, well, that you will have to read further.
How Sam Heughan’s performance saved the SAS Red Notice movie. Spoiler Alert
The opening scene warns us that “Psychopaths that can learn to love are even more rare than a black swan.” And this is the premise of the movie SAS Red Notice.
It is clear from the beginning that William Lewis and Grace Lewis, father and daughter, are psychopaths. To finish their mission William Lewis asks Grace to “make a decision. Do it now,’ and she chooses to blow torch innocent people to send a message. In a later scene, William admits that “Grace is special. She’s like me, only better,” namely a psychopath like he is (both William and Grace admit to never having loved anyone else in their lives).
But we learn this from the start, so I asked myself, what was the point of the opening line since we already know who the psychopath is?
We meet Tom Buckingham (Sam Heughan) planning to propose to his girlfriend with his Nana’s ring. But the ring has a rather bloody history, and although I found the idea romantic, I shuddered at the thought. And the shudder stayed with me. What kind of a man does something like this? But he’s the good guy, right?
It also caught my eye that Tom is pretty much a loner, he seems to have only his butler in his life (did Andy McNab had a little nod towards Batman here?), oh, and he has one friend in the SAS team.
It is to his friend, Declan Smith (Tom Hopper) that Tom Buckingham admits to loving his girlfriend Sophie (although he never, ever, loved anyone in his entire life) and that he plans to take off to Paris and propose – just like that, after all the killing they just did. And Tom is all smiling about his plans, no pains there for the lives he just took.
Sam Heughan is brilliant here in creating the illusion that this time is different, with Sophie, although he can’ quite explain it in words, not even to his only friend. And he does leave us with the shadow of a thought, could he be a psychopath too? But he’s a good guy, right?
Tom appears to be able to switch himself on and off quite easily; now he visits his girlfriend, now he hunts and kills terrorists, then he’s the perfect boyfriend again. At one stage, when Sophie gets to nurse his wounds, she asks him if it didn’t bother him that he had to kill a woman, and if “everything ever affects you? Ever?’ and he candidly answers ‘no”.
Sam Heughan brings this scene so well together, playing the cool and collected SAS soldier who had learned to lock away his feelings so well that he doesn’t even notice them anymore, to protect himself… or not? He doesn’t seem to understand why Sophie is so upset about, that he isn’t bothered by his job, by the killings it involves.
So I asked myself again, after this scene, who is the psychopath in this movie?
The fact that Tom Buckingham single-handedly took on the terrorists in that tight tunnel was hard to buy, but then so many heroes do it, right? James Bond does it and we kind of expect that from him.
Tom’s character is rounded up by the fact that he can speak French (well, he is SAS after all) to the girl, Emmeline, he rescued from the train, and that he makes her feel secure. I thought that this scene showed some of the character’s soft side, although the girl concludes to Tom that “there are lots of things you can’t explain.
I liked how Sam Heughan made us believe that he bought the “come get me” text message supposedly sent to him by his girlfriend Sophie (but typed by black Swan Grace Lewis), when he knew Sophie too well, knew that she will never choose to save herself and leave casualties behind.
But it was the final scene between Grace Lewis and Tom Buckingham that showed Sam Heughan’s portraying skills. Although it took him a rather long time to knock Grace down (he’s twice her size, but wounded, plus she’s a certified psychopath so this should give her extra physical strength, right?).
After previously telling Tom “we are more alike than you know,” Grace tried again to lure Tom to her side, telling him how he enjoyed the game they played, and how he wouldn’t think twice before killing a human being, just like she.
It is in this scene that Tom realizes that he was acting like a psychopath without being one. And he finds it hard to put it into words. Yet we see that on his face. But the fact that he knows Sophie is on his side saves his life in this scene, for he doesn’t give in, doesn’t fall into Grace’s dark side. We can almost see his skin crawl as he realizes the extent of Grace’s psychopathy. Yet he smiles at her, acknowledging that he is one, a psychopath. Looking as if he setts her a trap.
Yet as he waits for her to die, after sliding her throat, she stares into thin air.
What just happened here? Heughan takes us from one extreme to the next. And I’ve changed my mind again, I still can’t tell whether he’s a psychopath or not.
But we’re soon to find out.
It is the scene when Tom will propose to Sophie, just a little later.
“Will you marry me?” he asks hopefully and then we see on his face how terror sets in for she doesn’t answer.
“You’re not meant to be married,” Sophie says.
“I thought you understood,” he says and there is so much pain in his eyes that he can barely speak.
“I do,” she says, although this is the wrong “I do” and her eyes say something else. They say I do understand that you’re a psychopath. (Oh, no!).
Really? Is this it? – goes through my mind.
Wait, next he staggers backward and he cries. And calls her name.
Brilliant work here, Heughan, showing one single, powerful emotion to let your girl know that you do experience feelings, and you are not the psychopath so many thought you were (and sorry for believing it too).
My thoughts on the SAS Red Notice movie. Spoiler Alert
There were a few clichés and plot ideas I didn’t buy
I thought it was a little bit of a cliché to open up with such a clear image, these are the terrorists, and they are psychopaths too. But it’s an action thriller, right?
We get it early that Grace is a psychopath, and she proves it again when she decides later to shoot one passenger for not handing in his cell phone. Yet why would she choose to save the bystander child, wounded in the arm? I know why; it helped the plot later. But it didn’t fit her character.
Grace seems to be walking around quite a lot with her hands pushed in her pockets. If she does this to show us that she’s a psychopath, I didn’t believe her. I’d imagine a terrorist rather walking as if he’s always ready for action, especially during an attack.
The gas pipeline
I also thought that the image of the poor Georgian village forced to sell its land for a gas pipeline to run through it was a little bit overdone. But the book came out in 2012, so maybe Andy McNab was one of the first to use it. The subsequent idea, that the Brits hid a gas pipeline inside their half of the Eurotunnel, was unexpected.
The involved government people
George Clements (Andy Serkis) I found to be a transparent character. For once, he knew William Lewis since their time together in Rhodesia. Yes, their paths could have split at some time, Clements staying with the good guys, Lewis taking the dark side. But Clements admits to Lewis that he’s still going, and that “politicians come and go, I’m the consistency” and he admits to cleaning Lewis’ mess more than once. So I doubted him from the beginning. Clements is also too visual in showing us how he keeps an eye on Declam Smith, later in the movie.
We also learn quite from the start that the Prime Minister is corrupt; he’s the one who ordered the Swans to clean the village. I would have liked to discover this later, and I would have liked a PM with more power.
I suspected Major Bisset quite early on, his character was rather thin too.
The PM, Major Bisset, and Clements are worried, too worried and that’s most of the time, that Grace Lewis will expose them.
Throughout the movie it felt like the only character developed at all was that of Tom Buckingham (Sam Heughan).
There is a lot of blasting and bombing, the special effects were rather entertaining, as was Tom’s and Sophie’s chat through the loo hole…
The poetry of one final scene stood out for me
Sophie Lewis, the Black Swan, runs through a snowed forest, wearing her dark clothing.
Tom Buckingham is chasing after her, in shades of gray, and only his wound, covered in blood, stands out red against the white background.
Like a White Swan chasing the Black Swan.
In this final, snowy scene, for the first time, there is no sound of bullets, of explosions, of commands shouted trough phones, only the eerie sound of falling snowflakes, of snow crushed underfoot as life chases death…
On a final note…
I thought that SAS Red Notice was entertaining, although its main story-line / script was thin and predictable. What stood out for me was the gold thread, the fuse that did blow up in the end, namely Tom Buckingham’s story and Sam Heughan’s performance. SAS Red Notice is worth watching one, for action and special effects, and twice to pay attention to the little clues left by Sam Heughan.
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