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Film Review: Renegades


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After being shelved for two years, this military heist directed by Steven Quale, and produced and co-written by Luc Besson finally saw the light of day this month. Yet aside from an exhilarating (if not formulaic) chase featuring a Soviet tank tearing through 1990s Sarajevo, and some impressive (if not overly lengthy) underwater filming, Renegades is just bad.

The film, which uses the Bosnian war as backdrop, follows a team of US Navy SEALs as they embark on a rogue mission to retrieve sunken Nazi gold, with plans to split the profits with one of the SEALs’ love interests, a beautiful Bosnian woman with very few speaking lines, who had sought their help in recovering this treasure.

The scale and staging of the first fifteen minutes set a promising tone, but this just serves to set expectations at a bar which the remainder of the film misses by a mile. The first sequence has no bearing on the rest of the film, which suddenly decides it wants to be a heist movie rather than a military action.

The tone never settles, rendering the comical scenes not that funny, and the emotive scenes not that affecting; everything is clumsily strung together in an amateurish and lacklustre manner. Surprising and disappointing, given the budget and the minds behind the production.  

Besson’s touch is clear in a dialogue that openly embraces cliché, and does not skimp on amusingly hammy lines. Productions carrying his name would usually at the very least bring something new to the genre, yet Renegades lacks even the slightest inkling of originality. At best, it is a lazy and disjointed mash-up of The Expendables, The A-Team, and a few military B-movies, where every self-aggrandising line of dialogue has been lifted from countless other films.

It lacks any depth or soul, displaying none of the anti-war rebelliousness of Kelly’s Heroes nor the satire of Three Kings, two films with practically identical plots to Renegades, yet which still manage to make a fresh contribution to cinema. The cast, among whom are some talented up-and-coming actors undoubtedly capable of much more, are unfortunately given nothing of substance to work with and can therefore do nothing to salvage the narrative.

Furthermore, the film uses the horrors of World War II and the Bosnian War as an uncomfortable background against which to crack jokes and show off Western machismo culture. The script is predictably, as is typical in this subgenre of action film, tin-eared to its broader context.

Renegades’ sole redeeming quality is the skilful cinematography underwater, thanks to Steven Quale’s experience working alongside James Cameron on The Abyss and Aliens of the Deep. Even that, however, can only do so much to rescue this film.

This is not a movie made for 2018. Years earlier it may have been appreciated as a popcorn flick, but today audiences deserve entertainment that is more responsive to the culture for which it is being created. Let’s stop celebrating machoism as the ideal standard of masculinity, let’s stop portraying women solely as love interests with only a spectre of agency, let’s stop blindly accepting American aggrandisement and racial insensitivity. Audiences deserve better entertainment than this.

Renegades is out now, distributed by Signature Entertainment.

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