Film Review – Kate
When I saw the advertisements for Kate (2021) my first thought was, “Wait a minute, didn’t this movie already come out?” I could’ve sworn that I had already seen it earlier this year, and I racked my brain trying to figure out why it was being rereleased now. After spending too much time doing internet research, I discovered that the movie I was thinking of was Gunpowder Milkshake (2021). That alone shows just how memorable – or unmemorable – Kate really is. When your movie resembles other movies so closely that people have trouble distinguishing the difference, you might have a problem.
Can you blame me for being confused, though? Action films like these are chugged out with such regularity that they’ve become the cinematic version of “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” We have reduced budgets and a reused story resulting in a final product that recycles other movies like it. Don’t get me wrong, in the age of the superhero and franchise blockbuster, there should be a place for mid-tier actioners to exist. Streaming services (in this case, Netflix) has become a haven for these productions. But just because Kate now has the chance to be seen at home doesn’t necessarily make it a good movie – far from it.
Tell me if this sounds familiar. Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is a top-level assassin who never misses her mark. Her mentor is Varrick (Woody Harrelson), who took her in as a child and trained her to be an efficient killer. After a one-night stand with a handsome stranger (Michiel Huisman) Kate discovers that she has been poisoned, leaving her only 24 hours to find those responsible before she dies. Her revenge journey takes her through the back alleys of Tokyo, up and down the hierarchy of a deadly yakuza gang. Along the way, Kate teams up with rebellious teenager Ani (Miku Patricia Martineau), who has secret ties to both the gang and Kate.
Yawn. This is all routine stuff, and director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan (along with screenwriter Umair Aleem) fashion the narrative as such. The plot unfolds episodically, as Kate confronts one gang leader after another, slowly moving her way up each level like a video game. There isn’t much inventiveness going on here, and what few surprises we get can be seen coming from a mile away. One plot twist deep in the second half is so blatantly obvious that we can call it long before it’s revealed. The intended shock turns into frustration as we wait for the film to catch up with the information we were already able to guess.
The main positive is Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who commands the screen with her dynamic presence. She has had experience in the action genre before – from Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010) to Birds of Prey (2010) – but it is here where she takes center stage. Winstead fills Kate with a balance of intense physicality and sheer exhaustion. She can take down an entire room of enemies with her bare hands, but she takes her fair share of damage as well. Being poisoned doesn’t help, as we are subjected to scenes of her vomiting or nearly passing out. Kate is not an unstoppable force of nature; she feels the pain just as much as she inflicts it. She goes through an emotional and physical wringer – her face and clothes getting bloodier as the story progresses.
The action choreography is well done. There is a slickness to it despite how violent and chaotic it is. Early on, Nicolas-Troyan’s direction (with Lyle Vincent’s cinematography) capture the shoots outs and fight scenes coherently, opting to have the camera sit still to see things clearly. One set piece in a restaurant is designed with bland white and grey walls to amplify the mayhem happening inside. As Kate shoots down bad guys and uses knives in all sorts of creative ways, the redness of the blood splatter contrasts with the muted colors to make for a nice visual texture.
It’s in between the set pieces that things fall apart. In terms of character depth, everything feels like it is operating on automatic. Kate is meant to have a tough outer shell that hides an inner vulnerability, but we don’t get much more of her than a surface level reading. She is defined by her need for revenge, and that’s all. Kate is supposed to have a connection with Ani based on their similar upbringing. Ani also grew up in a world of crime and violence and very well could be on the same path as Kate, but she is written and directed obnoxiously. The most charisma we get from her is that she likes to add in “bitch” after every other word in a sentence. This isn’t a criticism of Martineau, as she tries to make the most of what is given to her, but it’s tough to flesh out a dynamic character with so little to work with.
With its neon lights and anime-infused stylings, Kate comes off trying to be much cooler than it is. It’s certainly passable with its action, but I highly doubt any of us will remember this a year from now – at least not until four or five more copycats come along.