/MAAC Review: Section Eight

MAAC Review: Section Eight

I first became aware of director Christian Sesma with the genre hybrid The Night Crew (2015). Whilst clearly inspired by Robert Rodriguez’s From Dusk Till Dawn (1996), the film highlighted Sesma’s skill with action and being able to create something memorable out of limited resources.

Since then I have looked at his career with some interest, even if his subsequent films have failed to reach the heights of The Night Crew. Most of the time this is more to do with limited resources rather than the talents of those involved, although even his films which have proven to be unsuccessful still have a number of interesting aspects to make them worthwhile.

The likes of The Vigilante Diaries (2016), Pay Dirt (2020) and the more recent Every Last One of Them (2021) are filled with worthwhile performances from a talented cast that in some ways make up for the film’s other drawbacks. With his recent actioner, Section Eight, he is probably working with his most high profile cast yet, with action greats like Dolph Lundgren and Scott Adkins amongst the cast.

With this in mind I went into Section Eight hoping that this would finally be the film that would allow Sesma to show off his full potential. Unfortunately, this was not to be, as similarly to his previous ventures there’s one too many issues that stop Section Eight from being a complete success. Still, there is enough going on here to keep action fans entertained for its brisk running time, and is definitely an improvement on Sesma’s last few films.

Ryan Kwanten stars as Jake Atherton, an ex-soldier struggling to make ends meet. Working at his uncle Earl’s (Mickey Rourke) garage, Jake comes face to face with a gang of local gangsters looking to extort his uncle. Jake quickly takes care of them, but this just leads to them looking for retribution resulting in the death of Jake’s wife and son.

Jake quickly exacts his revenge, murdering those involved in his family’s death. This action lands him in prison, where Jake seems to have accepted his fate. Although his former Colonel Tom (Dolph Lundgren) offers to mount an appeal, Jake doesn’t seem interested in accepting any help.

Afterwards he is visited by the secretive Sam Ramsey (Dermot Mulroney), head of the shadowy organization Section Eight, who is looking to recruit Jake to carry out secret missions seemingly on behalf of the U.S. Government. Similarly to his appeal, Jake isn’t interested but Sam has a way of convincing him and only a short while later he finds himself on his first mission.

It doesn’t take long for Jake to realize that Section Eight isn’t exactly what it appears to be. With nowhere to turn, Jake has no choice but to take the fight to his new employers. Putting a further spanner in the works is deadly assassin Leonard Locke (Scott Adkins) who is hot on Jake’s trail.

The first thing that is apparent with Section Eight is its low budget. Now this is something the majority of Sesma’s films has had to deal with, and it isn’t always a deal breaker. Unfortunately, it has that ugly digital look that seems to plague many DTV actioners these days. However, it is more visually appealing than the last two Sesma films I watched, Take Back (2021) and Every Last One of Them (2021), with the film not seeming to be restricted to a few different locations.

The script by Chad Law and Josh Ridgway has enough going on to at least hold one’s interest, keeping things moving at a fair pace that papers over some of the script’s issues i.e. paper thin characters, plot holes etc.  Additionally, there is a lot less padding than some of Sesma’s other films. There are the odd dialogue heavy sequences, such as Mickey Rourke’s monologue about his past, but nothing too intrusive to slow down proceedings.

The main issue with the previously mentioned Take Back and Every Last One of Them were that they both seemed to struggle holding the audience’s attention throughout their complete running time, becoming clear there wasn’t enough plot to stretch to a full length feature.

The improved script didn’t surprise me considering the involvement of the prolific screenwriter Chad Law. No stranger to the DTV arena, Law has worked on some of the better DTV action movies of the last decade, writing the likes of 6 Bullets (2012), Close Range (2015) and Daylight’s End (2016). Sure, his work here won’t win him any awards, with Section Eight being filled with the type of cliches action fans expect from this type of movie. Still, it gets the job done and makes the characters somewhat more interesting than some other DTV fare.

I was less aware of Law’s co-writer Josh Ridgeway, but upon checking I noted he had written the action-horror High Moon (2019), which like some of Sesma’s own films had a great idea but lacked the resources to make it truly memorable.

The action of Section Eight is evenly paced throughout. There is nothing here that you haven’t seen before, but it is well realized. I appreciated that Sesma took a no frills approach to the action, shooting the fights and shootouts in a clear no bullshit manner, allowing us to properly see what’s unfolding on screen.

The action choreography is courtesy of Luke LaFontaine who should be no stranger to M.A.A.C readers, having helped create quality action scenes in such films as Savage Dog (2017), The Debt Collector (2018) and Avengement (2019).

The one thing those three films have in common is leading man Scott Adkins, who also appears in Section Eight, although regrettably in a limited capacity. However, LaFontaine assists in creating two standout action scenes that showcase Adkins’ skills. The first of these is a casino based beat down where Adkins takes on a team of security guards. The other is a one on one fight between him and Kwanten, which is the film’s finest action set piece, with Adkins putting Kwanten through the ringer.

Kwanten isn’t someone you automatically think of as an action hero, although he has dipped his toe into the genre now and again. The best of these would no doubt be the excellent Red Hill (2010), a modern day western that led to director Patrick Hughes helming Expendables 3 (2014).

While Kwanten performs well with the film’s dramatic scenes, I did find him unconvincing here as the supposedly highly trained Jake. For the majority of the film he never really shows why Section Eight would want to recruit him, with him never impressing the way Adkins does. In fact, if you had Adkins on the payroll you wonder why they would even go to the trouble of trying to even employ him. Perhaps the film would have been better suited as an Adkins vehicle rather than Kwanten, but this was not to be.

Action fans will be happy to see action legend Dolph Lundgren in a suitably substantial role. I would have liked him to have more screen time but at least his role is more than just an extended cameo, with Lundgren even getting involved in the action.

Both Dermot Mulroney and Mickey Rourke add a bit of gravitas to proceedings. Mulroney makes for a suitable villain, and is certainly a better actor than one would normally expect to play this kind of role. Rourke has limited screen time, but adds some pathos, giving quite a heartfelt performance in his handful of scenes. It is certainly an improvement on his last role for Sesma in Take Back.

It wouldn’t be a Christian Sesma film without an appearance from his lucky charm Paul Sloan, who has appeared in some capacity in numerous Sesma films. It’s nice seeing him again even if he is ultimately wasted in a nothing role. The same is true of the prolific Robert LeSardo, who may not be instantly recognizable by his name but will be as soon as he shows up.

Section Eight isn’t the type of film that I would recommend to anyone other than true action fans, as many would be able to overlook the film’s obvious issues. Still, the handful of fight scenes make it at least a worthwhile watch, and if you’re a fan of either Dolph Lundgren or Scott Adkins, you will no doubt have to see it.

Sesma has several films already in the pipeline, one of which, War Paint (2023), featuring Adkins in a leading role. I continue to hold out hope that Sesma’s next will be the one to bring everything together perfectly.

Plot: 2.5/5
Acting: 3/5
Action: 3/5
Overall: 2.8/5

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