One Shot (2021) reunites Scott Adkins with director James Nunn, their third collaboration following Green Street 3: Never Back Down (2013) and Eliminators (2016). Both of those were solid but unspectacular action movies. They were worth a watch but quickly forgotten. One Shot, on the other hand, is an absolute must-see.
One Shot (2021) follows an elite squad of Navy SEALs tasked with transporting a suspected terrorist from a black site island prison back to the U.S. for interrogation. Things turn unfavorable for the SEALs when insurgents attack the island, intent on killing the prisoner before he reveals his information.
The story is pretty straightforward, as it essentially boils down to this; The SEALs are trying to protect the guy while the insurgents are trying to kill him. There are some character reveals and twists intended to add a bit of complexity to the plot (more likely they’ll induce some eye-rolling), but it never amounts to much more than that simple summary. The story exists to break up the action set-pieces, and I’m ok with that because the action is so great.
Admittedly, because the story is pretty standard fare for the genre, the characters are also fairly generic. Despite that, most of the actors gave good performances and did everything they could to make their characters feel like real people. Other than Adkins, the standouts to me were Emmanuel Imani as Brandon Whitaker, a member of the SEAL team, and Jess Liaudin as the menacing leader of the insurgents, Hakim Charef.
Adkins is great in this, as usual. He doesn’t get to do much as far as character building goes, and his character is a bit stoic so, unfortunately, his charisma doesn’t get to shine as it does in his best roles, but his physicality, athleticism, and ability to carry a movie are on full display. This isn't one of his best characters, but it is a solid performance in a movie that I would place among his best.
Imani gave an understated performance that contrasted with the chaos around him and made his character incredibly interesting to me. It's not a very rangy role that could showcase his talents, but I appreciate his approach. He made his character feel natural, as opposed to being showy.
Whitaker’s performance was a bit more eccentric, as villain performances tend to be, but I enjoyed it. I appreciate the effort put into showing Charef’s leadership abilities and loyalty to his cause. I’m not saying he’ll be mentioned come awards season, but I enjoyed that he put effort into fleshing out his character instead of relying solely on his physical stature to be an intimidating villain.
Though most of the cast was very good, the true stars of this movie are the director, James Nunn, and the stunt team (including those actors that contributed to the action). It isn’t exactly a new idea, and the continuous-shot style has become a bit of a trend in recent years (I can think of 4 examples of it I’ve seen in the last decade), but it’s rare to see it done in the low-budget action world. Filming any movie in that style is hard enough, without adding the pre-existing hurdles and constraints of low-budget moviemaking. That being the case, this will never get the recognition or adoration that Birdman (9 Oscar nominations) or 1917 (10 nominations) received, but I truly think it is just as great of an achievement as those movies, and director James Nunn deserves a lot of credit for pulling it off.
Watching this, you can tell the amount of time and effort put into the planning and choreography of the actors and the camerawork. Once the action kicks off, it is non-stop and Nunn’s camera work puts you in the middle of things. It is kinetic enough to make you feel like you’re part of the action, but it is planned and executed well enough for the action to be seen clearly and for the geography of the events to be easily understood. The incredible action scenes will leave you stunned, and they are varied enough to keep things fresh and keep you on the edge of your seat.
The shoot-outs are intense and enjoyable, but my favorite parts are with Adkins navigating the compound on his own, trying to evade capture and taking out the enemies one by one. One stand-out scene has him sneaking around a building filled with enemies, armed with only a knife. The continuous-shot style adds to the tension of this scene and makes it more enjoyable when he starts to take the enemies out akin to John Rambo in First Blood.
Overall, while the story leaves a bit to be desired, the action that propels that story, and the incredible camerawork, stunt work, and choreography more than makeup for the narrative faults. James Nunn deserves recognition for what he achieved in this, and I’m excited to see what he can bring to the genre in the future, especially if it's another collaboration with Scott Adkins.