The shift in Hollywood towards high-budget, heavily branded franchise pictures has been hard on the generic action film. Jump back a quarter century, and mass audiences in 1996 were met by a variety of rugged, desperate action fare in which ordinary people with working class jobs took on criminals and terrorists armed only with their wits and a handgun. That year alone cinemas hosted the likes of The Rock, Chain Reaction, Broken Arrow, Executive Decision, Eraser, Maximum Risk, The Glimmer Man, and numerous others. Today these kinds of features have not only been relegated to streaming services and downloads, but have also lost their more prestigious talent and their production budgets. There are always exceptions, but by and large the straight-up action movie is a dying breed. John McClane is dead; murdered by Captain America and the Avengers.
This is why it seems so refreshing to watch Travis Taute’s Indemnity (2021). This action-filled thriller does not re-invent the wheel, nor does it particularly innovate. Instead it tells a story quite familiar to viewers of the 1990s: a working-class hero is thrown into perilous danger, pursued by the authorities, and must solve a mystery and get revenge. Back in the day this sort of film would likely get lost in the crowd. Produced and released into a 21st century environment of franchise-building and corporate synergies, I think it has a decent shot at finding a modest cult audience. Indemnity demands a Friday night, a couch, some beers, and a pizza – in the best possible sense.
Cape Town firefighter Theo Abrams (Jarrid Geduld) struggles with PTSD after an incident in which two of his colleagues died. When his journalist wife Angela (Nicole Fortuin) is murdered – and he is framed for the crime – Theo goes on the run from police and the murderous conspirators who destroyed his life.
A mostly formulaic story is lifted by the occasional surprise or twist. Performances are solid and fitted perfectly for purpose. Jarrid Geduld has an engaging screen presence and is a strong action performer. The action itself is well-grounded and hugely enjoyable. Shoot-outs abound, as do wild punch-ups and physical altercations, foot chases, and the like. If anything the Hollywood property Indemnity most resembles is 24, with its solo desperate protagonist on the run and webs of conspiracies in police and government forces. Director Travis Taute knows his genre well, and hits every appropriate beat required.
An added injection of appeal comes from the film’s South African setting and background. Dialogue takes place in multiple languages, bouncing back and forth based on characters and circumstance. The setting is distinctive, with nice use of the Cape Town surroundings throughout.
It is always important to consider films based not simply on what they are, but also what they are trying to be. This is straight-forward fast-paced action cinema with a fresh cast and strong choreography. Director Howard Hawks is purported to describe a good film as ‘three good scenes, no bad ones’, and for a direct crowd-pleasing narrative like this, that is a pretty good definition to keep in mind. Indemnity does what it says on the tin – no more, no less – and is all the more satisfying for it.
Indemnity screened at the 2021 Fantasia International Film Festival. For more information click here.