★★★ / ★★★★
Clocking in at barely an hour and twenty minutes, chase picture “Kidnap” offers a white-knuckle experience so tense, it is a challenge not to yell at the screen either for instructions or to root for the heroine, Halle Berry playing Karla the beleaguered mother, to make the child abductors (Chris McGinn, Lew Temple) suffer as much as humanly possible. Parents will relate to this movie most… but they are equally likely to be its harshest critics.
The film is criticized mostly for the way Karla is written. It is mentioned that she is often careless and unable to make the smartest decision at a moment’s notice, especially when the life of her son (Sage Correa) is at stake. While I do not necessarily disagree with these observations, I found them to be negligible because Berry is able to take a flawed character and make her relatable independent of the circumstances.
Observant viewers will recognize that in between moments is a real person amidst the chaos unfolding inside the car and throughout the busy highways. Inferior pictures within the sub-genre tend to rely solely on the situation to create tension. Here, I felt that Berry’s interpretation of the character is that she is a mother first, imperfections and all, not a superhuman who sees so clearly despite the increasingly frustrating hurdles Karla must go through to get her son back. In other words, Berry approaches the character as if she were in a drama first and in a thriller second. And because there is a bit of contrast, the performance is interesting rather than a bore. Imagine a less seasoned actor in the role.
Chase scenes command a manic energy about them. It helps that we see real vehicles colliding against another rather than cheap CGI where we know immediately that we are watching a fabrication. There is minimal dialogue between two or more individuals and so the sounds, in a way, are amplified. The screeching of the tires, vehicles swooshing by, car doors being slammed—these sounds transport the audience into the action. We might as well be sitting in the seat right next to the increasingly agitated Karla.
I wished, however, that there had been fewer instances in which slow motion is employed. This technique is designed to highlight important or shocking events, but I felt that at times it slows down the momentum of an action sequence. Manic action is usually hand-in-hand with breathlessness. While some images are impressive, like a car crash or a pedestrian getting run over, slow motion allows the audience to breathe, to take a break, when the experience demands that it be observed in real time.
Still, “Kidnap” is worth seeing for its level of suspense. It is near impossible to lose interest because every scene is tethered to a dramatic buildup. When the car chases cease and the characters must fight each other on foot, thrills linger and build up again.