By Louis Trythall
The Expatriate certainly wastes little time with lengthy introductions. Opening with a cut-and-thrust raid, Philipp Stölzl dispenses with formalities and cuts right to the chase. Barely sixty seconds in, and we get our first death. As a cloaked-intruder gains access to a secure vault in Brussels, taking a peculiar, number-locked cylindrical object (marked ‘BV-C18’) in a leather holdall. After an intricate series of exchanges, we see the holdall arrive at its recipient – a rather uneasy-looking man, sat in the backseat of a parked car (Neil Napier) .
In Antwerp, meanwhile, we meet our protagonist – ex-CIA operative, Ben Logan (Aaron Eckhart). Having moved to Belgium only two months earlier with teenage daughter Amy (Liana Liberato), Logan is working for a company called ‘Halgate’ – tasked with improving their advanced security systems.
Working late one night, a sudden allergic reaction on his daughter’s part leads to Logan spending the night in a hospital waiting room. Things take a turn for the strange, however, when Logan returns to Halgate the following morning to find the entire floor deserted. His co-workers, equipment, furniture, gone. His phone and bank account, drained. Even the company’s phone extension, no longer in use. Logan – as the film’s alternate title suggests – has been erased.
It’s an intriguing enough premise. With Logan and Amy finding themselves inadvertently embroiled in a paranoid, trust-no-one conspiracy of corruption and vested interests. And yet, having gained your attention, it quickly becomes apparent that The Expatriate doesn’t quite know what to do with it.
Thrillers live and die by their pacing. And The Expatriate wavers momentarily after the engaging, derelict-Halgate-reveal. The film, like a CIA agent with a bullet wound to the leg, limping somewhat gingerly into its second act.
The nagging pacing problems only intensify once the film re-gains momentum. Stölzl this time allowing clues and motives to be pieced together too swiftly; and more damningly, the conspiracy itself to unravel too effortlessly. The decision to make Logan’s character a former Black Ops operative appears, in this sense, to also be something of a misstep. While undoubtedly lending plausibility to Logan’s adroitness, it has the unfortunate effect of stripping the film of must-needed tension. Logan never seems out of his depth; and there’s little sense he will ever really fail.
While its flaws are indeed numerous, it is perhaps, then, a testament to Stölzl that in spite of such criticisms, The Expatriate remains hugely watchable. Eckhart is excellent throughout as Logan; whilst Olga Kurylenko, for all her conflicting loyalties, is suitably glacial. And if the mooted €12 million budget is accurate, The Expatriate looks almost impossibly-handsome.
Enjoyable and frustrating in almost equal measure, The Expatriate is a decidedly mixed bag. The film is certainly not without its moments – but like a Jackson Pollock painting with no canvas, nothing quite sticks. Eckhart shines, giving another memorable performance following his role as Harvey Dent in 2008’s The Dark Knight. But The Expatriate is neither the tightly-wound-thriller we deserved; or the one we needed.
Cast: Aaron Eckhart, Olga Kurylenko, Liana Liberato
Director: Philipp Stölzl
Plot: Having left the United States, ex-CIA operative Ben Logan and his daughter find themselves on the run and at the centre of an international conspiracy – when Logan’s employers erase all record of his existence.
Running Time: 100 minutes
BBFC Certificate: 15
Country of Origin: USA
Release Date (Cinema): 29 March, 2013
Genre: Action, Thriller