Having stuck very much in the horror genre, with plenty of B-rate horror films under his belt, director Jim Gillespie's latest, Take Down (or Billionaire Ransom as it's now being called over in the U.S), was something a little different. Part-thriller, part-young-adult dystopian flick, the film premiered at Edinburgh Film Festival and here's my review of it.


Son of a rich billionaire (Sebastian Koch), Kyle Hartmann's (Jeremy Sumpter) eccentric lifestyle is reckless and callous but, after he goes too far, crashing an expensive car whilst high on drugs and alcohol, and leaving the pretty girl, Amy Tilton (Phoebe Tonkin), he was driving passed out in the wreckage, his dad draws the line and sends him off to a boot camp for rebellious rich kids on a remote, off-grid island in Scotland. Alongside other rich kids that have frustrated their parents, including Amy, sent by her dad for the rashness of the aforementioned incident too, displeased at being left for dead, Kyle is forced to go out and learn survival skills and teamwork, in the hopes that it will teach the group about taking responsibility for their own actions. However, when the island is taken hostage, and held for a billion dollar ransom, by a group of criminals - led by the well-trained assassin Billy Speck (Ed Westwick) - the young misfits must put aside their differences and work together to take down the criminals and survive.

The premise is almost like a pick and mix from various other dystopian thrillers and genres: think The Hunger Games meets The Maze Runner with rich kids and you're on the right track. Alexander Ignon's screenplay isn't one for ingenuity or bringing anything fresh to the table, the clich├ęs are present and it's fairly formulaic and predictable in its approach. However, that's not to say that this film isn't entertaining. In fact, if anything, it's just that: fun. The film doesn't take itself too seriously and is self-aware of just what it is, going about having fun and that's exactly what it does and what it is. It's a film driven by its characters and, as contrived as they may be, Ignon's screenplay is at its strongest when it's focusing its attention on these characters; they're charming and likable and, despite the fact that they're probably wealthier and more arrogant than most, there's even a little bit of relatability to them and to the notion of taking responsibility for your own actions. The performances are great too; the cast is on-form and has such believable, veritable chemistry and dynamics here. Sumpter is a standout, as our protagonist Kyle, as is Westwick, as our opposing antagonist - the Gossip Girl gives a more atypical turn in a villainous role and it's wonderful to watch.

The first act of the film focuses primarily on character-building, as our teen leads are tasked with learning to work together to survive in the woods, and it's by far the most entertaining part of the film - seeing them face various challenges and bond as a unit is thoroughly entertaining to watch. As I mentioned, this film has done a fine job crafting intriguing characters - for the most part anyway, aside from Speck, the antagonists feel a little one-note and bland at best. It takes a while for the action to start but you're so invested in these characters that it doesn't really matter. In fact, it's the middle act, once the island has been taken, where the film potters. Jim Gillespie's direction of the tone and pacing here feels a little messy and uneven - the middle act really becomes painstakingly tedious to watch since hardly anything happens here. Things do pick up but Gillespie's handling of the pacing isn't the best.

Take Down isn't the greatest film ever. It's far from it. For such an over-the-top action flick, even this still can feel too contrived and superficial for its own good at times. Jim Gillespie's direction, for the most part, is slick and the film is helmed but it can be a little choppy and uneven at times; especially with the pacing, as the issues are certainly evident in that regard. Yet, aside from this, you can't help but leave this film with a grin on your face. It's a fun, entertaining film and the energy is infectious; the film boasts a big heart and plenty of charm too. The cast are all on-form too and give remarkable performances, grounding their likable, charismatic characters and adding levity and relatability to the proceedings. On paper, Take Down is nothing special and shouldn't work. Yet it does. It's tons of fun to watch. It's a flawed film but that doesn't take away from the fact that it's also a film that is crazy, action-packed and just so damn enjoyable to watch - thanks largely to its likable, charismatic cast of youngsters and a stylish, fun screenplay.

The pacing issues are evident and, even for such a crazy film, it does feel a little too contrived at times but, with a director and ensemble cast all on-form, Take Down is a film that knows exactly what it is: a fun, slick and stylish thriller that is far more entertaining than it should be.

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About the Author

Awais Irfan
Founder of Oasis Awais, and avid lover of life, Awais Irfan's love of writing and film is unequivocal. Ever since he was a little kid, he has loved the cinematic experience; so much so, he is studying Film Production in Glasgow and hopes to be the next "big thing" in directing.

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