"For what it is, it’s impressive and well deserving of finding an audience, which I don’t doubt it will"

Born of War is the second film from – and I hate using the phrase -- rising star Vicky Jewson. I am fully familiar with Vicky’s story. I remember all the reports when she started her first film at just eighteen and she seemed to be living the dream, and felt like an inspirational story to my younger self.

Whilst far from flawless, this is certainly an improvement and it would appear action- thriller is a far more comfortable place for Jewson. Let’s get the politics out of the way: yes, this is an action film with a female lead (the tightness of whose catsuit is not the primary selling point) by a female director and no, those two things don’t happen nearly enough. In fact, I can’t immediately think of another time that combination has actually ever happened. I’m not here to debate sexism, and whilst there’s certainly something positive to be taken away from this, I’m here to talk about the film on its own merits.

I’m a firm believer that the story is king and here we have a smart, albeit slightly disjointed, one with just enough twists and turns to make us think without causing confusion. In tone and style I’d liken this to the thriller series 24 or perhaps the upcoming Spooks movie, and I’ll be interested to see if that can hold my attention in the same way.

Born of War is about Mina, a relatively ordinary girl trying to find her place in college (and ultimately the world) who is suddenly thrust into a desperate fight for her life when her parents are killed by the fanatical cohorts of her true father, a terrorist leader intent on taking down an oil company in his native land, who has only just learnt of Mina’s existence after her mother fled his country over two decades ago. Having escaped capture, Mina is taken in by British Intelligence and a plan is formed to lure her father out of hiding using her as bait.

The plot goes deeper and more complex than that and if you’re familiar with the genre it’s possible you can already see the various twists coming, but I was genuinely surprised. I will say that the opening set piece, whilst well staged, is largely unnecessary and gives the audience a lot of information which is later played off as part of the mystery, meaning they waste a fair amount of time revealing stuff that wasn’t particularly hidden in the first place, possibly at the expense of other more important characterisation that is most definitely missing.

For every nice thing I can think to say about the film a negative point pops up to cancel it out. Beautiful staging - uninspiring cinematography; strong female lead - lack of characterisation across the rest of the cast; neat, clever, twisting plot - uninteresting dialogue and a villain who, to be blunt, is just boring.

The action set pieces are all well thought out but seem to have been victims of a lack of rehearsal time, and the film as a whole just lacks that final coat of paint. But the biggest problem with Born of War is that it looks cheap, which feels like a low blow to a low budget, independent movie. At my screening Vicky came onto stage before the start of the film to give relatively typical ‘thanks for coming, hope you enjoy the movie’ type of a speech, coupled with a miniaturised breakdown of how production went and what they were trying to achieve.

At first it felt like she was overselling the movie but at some point she flipped to almost apologising for it, explaining how financially challenged they were (although it’s rare to see an indie filmmaker that’s ever said they had enough money) and the corners they cut and risks they took to get the film to us.

Biting off more than you can chew is a mistake, not an excuse, and having now seen the film I can say that more has been accomplished with less. That said, I’ve certainly seen less accomplished with more and the accomplishments of Born of War are not to be sniffed at, flawed though it may be.

The cinematography is frequently hindered by the limits of the locations. As mentioned, the action could have been smoother in places and the sound mix could definitely do with another pass. The one area that wasn’t neglected is the design -- the Middle East locations are used to great effect, the set pieces are well thought out and there’s even a Bond-style end boss fight on a swanky private jet. If only the practicalities of all this superficial loveliness had been given the same attention we might be looking at something really incredible. As it is we’re just looking at a film that tries hard but doesn’t quite make it all the way to the finish line.

I’m hesitant to call this film good, because ultimately I think it falls short, but it certainly isn’t boring. For what it is, it’s impressive and well deserving of finding an audience, which I don’t doubt it will. The production as a whole feels like a team trying their hardest but through lack of time, experience and, of course, money, couldn’t quite achieve what they were after, but I’ll happily take sincere effort over genuine incompetence any day. A few more Vicky Jewsons making action films and a few less Michael Bays and we might be getting somewhere.