If it isn’t actually one continuous shot, it sure looks like it is
The “single take” feature film has arrived on the scene as its own particular format; a sub-genre, if you will, in much the same way that Groundhog Day has become a type of film generally referred to as a “time loop” movie. And so, when we now see a proliferation of time loop films delving into all kinds of different genres, from sci-fi, to horror, to romantic comedy, one would do well to assess each film’s success in executing the variation on its central conceit. I believe the same to be true of “single take” films. Where ACTUAL single take films are quite few and far between, perhaps limited to Russian Ark or Victoria (though definitely let me know what others are out there), the number of films presented in the style of a single take is expanding all the time… a phenomenon I welcome with open arms as a new opportunity to explore a particular format of cinema. I’ve quite enjoyed such films as Bushwick, 1917, and now, James Nunn and Scott Adkins’ One Shot. It’s a film presented as a single take, though edits are hidden throughout. How much you enjoy the film will largely hinge on how effective you find the single take format to work, and how effectively the film conforms around the conceit.
I’m happy to report that One Shot delivers mightily on the promise of the single take action thriller. So many components have to come together in order for a premise like this to work. On the script level (Jamie Russell based on a story by James Nunn), an exciting premise must be devised that can satisfy viewers without any real jumps in time, as the story will take place in more or less “real time”. One Shot’s basic premise and script execution plays out quite effectively with Scott Adkins’ elite squad of soldiers extracting a prisoner from a Guantanamo-like facility on an urgent mission to prevent a terrorist plot, but getting caught up in a massive siege by soldiers for hire looking for the very same prisoner. All the while a clock is ticking on the homefront as a terrorist threat is imminent. Characters in a propulsive plot like this will never have enormous amounts of room to breathe, but that’s another area where the script must be efficient, and use the long take conceit to find moments of character development and nuance. Ashley Greene’s agent Zoe Anderson gets some real moments to be fleshed out in various “walk and talks” , as does Waleed Elgadi’s pivotal prisoner character Amin Mansur.
Which brings me to the next component of the single take premise which absolutely has to work, and that is the cast. Actors have nowhere to hide in a format like this. Edits, cutaways, ADR’d dialog… most of that is out the window when the camera doesn’t cut and every actor must pull equal weight to get the take and sell the story. Adkins, Greene, Elgadi, and even Ryan Phillippe all put in pretty exceptional work here to sell this story. I’d also argue that elements such as the location matter a whole lot in a story like this, and the One Shot team found a perfect place to create and shape this Guantanamo-like action tale.
But ultimately, this is an action movie, and another team up from modern action star royalty Scott Adkins and a frequent collaborator of his, James Nunn (Green Street Hooligans 3, Eliminators), so expectations are high. Can a movie like this deliver the kinds of high flying martial arts shenanigans as Adkins’ signature franchise, the Undisputed films? Well, no. Not really. A single take action film, by its nature, can’t provide those kinds of acrobatics. So this isn’t a fight film. But it is a tightly paced tactical action film, and what it loses in complex fight choreography it gains in gritty and brutal realism. The action actually IS quite thrilling, and in no small part because of all the aforementioned components all clicking into place so that the action can remain compelling even as the camera never cuts. There are firefights and fisticuffs, as well as Metal Gear Solid-esque stealth sequences. There are villainous rogues (most notably Jess Liaudin’s Hakim Charef, who make a real impact and cause a real headache for Adkins’ Jake Harris.
James Nunn and his entire team took on the challenge of a long take action film and proceeded to execute on every level required in order to succeed with that style. Will martial arts fans and fight film junkies find the same level of thrills as they might in a John Wick film? Probably not. But those interested in the sheer filmmaking magic of executing on the exhausting challenges of the single take format will find much to laud here. And that’s where it personally connected for me. I love action cinema with all of my heart, and what matters the most to me is genuine passion. Are filmmaking heroes of mine such as Scott Adkins and James Nunn putting everything they’ve got into this? Are they pushing themselves and their craft to bring to their fans a singular experience unlike anything else in the genre? Hell yeah they are. This is a filmmaking team who came together to see if they could pull off a Herculean task on a budget that likely made the project feel impossible. And they did it. I can get behind that kind of passion any day. And I’d take a thousand One Shot’s, where the risks are high and the payoffs elusive, over a slickly produced, generously budgeted generic action film that takes zero risks and simply caters to a demographic.
To hear more of my rantings and ravings about One Shot, don’t miss the Adkins Undisputed podcast (The most complete Scott Adkins podcast in the world), where I was honored to be able to review One Shot along with host Mike Scott and Chris Barreras, a veteran who knows a thing or two about tactical action.
And I’m Out.
One Shot is available On Demand beginning November 5th, 2021 from Screen Media.