You know Sam (Noomi Rapace) is a badass well before we even see her in full — a “close protection officer” rocking a flak jacket and a smoke in an indeterminate Middle Eastern war zone where things about about to Go to Shit(™).
How do we know this? Co-writer / producer / director Vicky Jewson’s camera seems to slink and stalk its way up to Sam in a series of gradually advancing shots. It suggests she’s approachable only by stealth methods and, like anyone skilled in evasive measures, always demanding a certain amount of distance.
Close is the latest in Rapace’s seemingly regular rotation in the Netflix Repertory Playhouse (streaming on the service starting today). It won’t make anyone forget Haywire. Or The Long Kiss Goodnight. Or Lucy. Or Atomic Blonde. Or even Salt. In a sense you’ve seen it before, the reluctant bodyguard and the recalcitrant charge (here a grown-up Sophie Nélisse from The Book Thief) forging a fast friendship under a trial by fire. And yet, in some ways, you’ve not.
In that prologue, Sam uses a corpse to draw fire and the frightened shouts of a woman to distract an advancing gunman. Her use of fear as a motivator is decidedly do-as-she-says, not-as-she-does. Once she’s home, Sam stabs at her phone’s screen to erase messages — a cellular equivalent of the fish hook she’ll put in someone’s spleen later on, the permanent deletion of fleeting moments when she thought she could have some semblance of normal life.
Most movies would build toward softening this hardened woman, whom Rapace embodies with a snub-nosed lethality, the occasional isolated jitters and a look that’s best described as Cher meets Zoe Bell. Not Close, which depicts something that seems heartwarming but, by way of Rapace’s body language, persuades us it’s yet another ingenious escape from a tight spot.
And boy, are there plenty of those here — from a well-timed flying knee drop to an underwater sequence that plays like Jewson saw You Were Never Really Here and thought, “What if I added action … AND FISH?” The plot is pro forma: Sam is tasked with what seems like rubber-stamp protection of Zoe, a party-girl heiress to a mining company. (You’ll hear the phrase “60 hectares of phosphate-rich lands in Zambia” more often than you’d expect.)
Circumstances turn more treacherous than either of them could imagine but about at the level you imagine if you’ve ever seen any movie featuring a bodyguard. Or an action sequence. Jewson finds a sufficient number of entertaining ways to let Rapace express her vulpine physicality, whether it’s confronting a handsy dancer with her own brief flirtation and then squeezing very hard or stabbing, clubbing and hay-making her way out of a paddy wagon full of corrupt cops.
Close is allegedly based on the life of Jacquie Davis, whose real-life clients include J.K. Rowling, Nicole Kidman and British royals. As you await the inevitable, you’ll wonder if Davis ever saved Rowling from kidnappers with her own hands tied. Or calmly talked Kidman through an evacuation as her mansion was under siege. Or maybe twice removed bones from the bodies of those who were bothering Queen Mum’s third cousin, twice removed.
In time, Jewson also lets us also see that Zoe has skills — namely in linguistics but also the heightened awareness and swift movement of a woman who has grown attuned to physical danger. That sense of twinned resiliency gives Close more juice than you expect.
Look: On its face, Close feels like a shrewdly curated algorithmic “Watch Next” sibling to Netflix’s hit import series Bodyguard. It’s slightly more than that, enough to be passable. And if the film’s opening credits resemble something like a Bond-inspired screensaver — all pretty fractals and a cover of Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” — well, there could be worse Netflix originals to become the streaming service-grade 007.