Toby Kebbell tries his hardest, but his committed performance as a British Bickle can’t save this uninspired blend of Taxi Driver, Harry Brown and Jason Bourne.
Arriving home from a traumatic tour of Afghanistan, Kebbell’s Miller is dismayed to find his South London estate overrun by drug gangs. Shortly after reconnecting with his somewhat more virtuous black buddy (which means the film can’t possibly be accused of, you know, racism) Miller is recruited by a secret government agency to monitor homegrown terror cells.
Brian Cox heads up this operation, phoning in a performance of such drawled condescension that it telegraphs his wrong ‘un status from square one, leaving you only able to ponder the recruitment policy of any agency so keen on hiring somebody with the biggest dose of PTSD since Alex Reid emerged from Jordan’s clutches.
Sure enough, Kebbell uncovers the usual conspiracy that goes right to the heart of government, taking in a veritable alphabet soup of clumsily deployed acronyms and, of course, burly blokes in black jeeps. By the time it’s suggested that the very gangs that have polluted his home might have a hand in this larger nonsense, your jaw will be dropping at the sheer implausibility of it all – and that’s before Kebbell brings the war home in a final shootout that further stretches credulity to breaking point.
On the plus side, DP Philipp Blaubach (who impressed with his work on The Disappearance of Alice Creed) makes Elephant and Castle by turns post-apocalyptic and grimly beautiful – a standout rooftop scene somehow makes south of the river look like 2019 Los Angeles – and half-remembered radio traffic infuses an immersive sound design that’s oddly reminiscent of The Shining.
Best of all, Kebbell finally delivers on the tons of promise he’s shown, nimbly boshing his way out of a few sticky situations with an intensity not many young British actors could replicate. That said, his voice is too pristine to convince as a former para – how many elite trained killers have you met with smooth, boyish tones that wouldn’t disgrace a boy band?
But these positives only add to the frustration. For all its bracingly staged action, The Veteran’s clumsy grasp of international politics, irresponsible paranoia-mongering and ludicrous conflation of the war in Afghanistan with the battlegrounds of South London leave a sour taste in the mouth.
Kebbell’s a rising star, and it’s not a bad pitch for some unpretentious thrills.
Okay, this is just getting silly.
Clichéd, incoherent and queasily Daily Mail-pleasing, its conspiracy theorising third act is a disaster.