KEY PHRASE: "Nothing more sacred than protecting a child".
In his first feature film as a director, Morgan S. Dalibert, whose involvement with cinema was until recently mostly known to the audiences through his work as a cinematographer in several French and international productions, aspires to create an action flick that, nevertheless, significantly diverts from the generic American reading of the genre. The final result is a dense movie that combines action-packed sequences with other themes such as betrayal and backstabbing, dysfunctional family relationships, political maneuvering, and the bonds between humans made possible singularly by love and care. Dalibert collaborates once again, after the 2020 film Lost Bullet, with actor Alban Lenoir, one of the few European actors who have been stereotyped as action heroes, and their chemistry, while certainly not unique or perfect, eventually pays off. Lenoir's experience from working as a stuntman, definitely played a role, as it is evident in the many one-to-one combat scenes that come across as well-rehearsed and impeccably choreographed. Even though AKA has several merits and high production values, the director's inexperience shows in his failure to find the proper balance between action scenes and character development in a movie that had the potential to become a modern version of Luc Besson's 1994 masterpiece Léon: The Professional.
The story commences as another typical infiltrator thriller, with the protagonist, Adam Franco (A. Lenoir), a true beast of a human being, a field warrior who knows how to use his own body's muscles and fibers as the ultimate lethal weapon, is being recruited by a government official for a secret mission. His objective is to penetrate an organized crime ring, led by the cruel and ruthless Victor Pastore (Eric Cantona), that is suspected to be linked with an African terrorist. Adam is the perfect man for the job as, apart from his physical attributes, he has a long experience of spying and playing the role of the mole. Thus, he finds no serious difficulty in joining Pastore's crew, and soon he gets promoted from a simple driver to a precious bodyguard as his skills impress both his peers and the big boss. Things become more complicated when Adam gets to know Pastore's family and especially his little son, Jonathan (Noé Chabbat). A bond is instantly developed between them, and Adam becomes a kind of mentor for the neglected and bullied at school boy. The stakes raise higher as the plot unfolds, and Adam will have to find the golden ratio between protecting Jonathan and completing his mission.
There are plenty of bullets flying throughout the course of the film's runtime, that could be 15–20 minutes shorter without the narrative being weakened, and impressive fight scenes. This is Dalibert's strong suit, as it seems. However, things are not equally notable when it comes to the little time that is left for the characters to breathe and forge meaningful relationships between them. The actors do their best in their roles, but the screenplay doesn't offer ample opportunities for them to exhibit their full set of skills. Former football icon, Eric Cantona, proves once again that leaving the soccer fields behind him was a wise choice and also that he is well-versed in the craft of acting. His portrayal of the rancorous mob boss is nothing short of exemplary. Lenoir is decent in the role of Adam, though it would be more interesting to watch what he could do in a production less centered around the action element. Overall, AKA has a lot of underused potential and lacks a clear orientation regarding its core narrative focus. As a debut, it is one that will not go unnoticed, and I'm certain that the film will reach a wide audience at a worldwide scale. Nonetheless, Dalibert, who also co-signs the screenplay along with Lenoir, lost the chance to deliver something truly beautiful in terms of emotional impact to the viewer.