Martin Campbell’s The Protégé stars Maggie Q, who, in turn, is the first Southeast Asian to star in a big-budget Hollywood action movie. But the reason films like this succeeds is not because they’re first at this or that. Instead, they have to be good, and thankfully, director Campbell, screenwriter Richard Wenk, and Q deliver.
Maggie Q stars as Anna. As a young girl in a post-war Viet Nam, she was rescued from a group of traffickers by hired assassin Moody (Samuel L. Jackson). In a moment of compassion, he “adopts” Anna then trains and mentors her to become a top-notch assassin over the following decades. So think The Professional and advance it a few decades.
Now in the present, Anna and Moody have done quite well as killers for hire. Moody’s coughing is cinematic shorthand for the fact he is dying and proposes “one last job” that will set up Anna for life. It would allow her to quit the business and follow her dream of running a vintage bookstore.
The job is to find the lost son of a business tycoon who died decades ago. Unfortunately, their investigation draws the interest of prolific assassin Rembrandt (Michael Keaton), whose team kills Anna’s associates, including Moody, Three Days of the Condor fashion. Eventually, she is captured and tortured, and soon a world of deceptions and double-crosses from Moody’s past is unveiled.
“…prolific assassin Rembrandt…kills Anna’s associates…”
If you’re tired of the over-the-top stunts from the Fast and the Furious franchise, The Protégé is the perfect alternative. The action beats are much more grounded and almost entirely devoid of CG “fix it in post” nonsense. Instead, we get several fun car and bike chases through the streets of Saigon, wonderfully choreographed hand-to-hand knife and gunfights, and it all ends with a nice explosion. In addition, there’s an apartment fight scene that is absolutely jaw-dropping and the most memorable moment of the film.
There is a great deal of downtime from the gunplay and martial arts. I found these dramatic points good counters to the high-energy action. These calmer moments feature Anna hunting down clues and investigating Moody’s mystery, as well as having her on the wrong end of “enhanced” interrogation when the big boss captures her. Q is put through the wringer and firmly establishes herself as an action star with work we haven’t seen since Nikita.
Michael Keaton is spectacular as Rembrandt. He’s downright ruthless as the big bad’s henchman, and his wavering moral compass and odd admiration for Anna adds great dimension to the character without going in a predictable direction. Also, the action sequences involving the beloved actor are downright incredible. I mean, surely he had a stunt double, right? Samuel L. Jackson is, well, Samuel L. Jackson. There is a cliched moment with his character, but he’s still a badass and, like Keaton, steals every scene.
Much of the film was shot in Southeast Asia, and not only is it gorgeous, but it is integral to the overall story. In addition, the locations provide a stark contrast to the cold, stone locations during the European segments. Also, the relationship between Anna and Rembrandt is so intriguing, it’s worth the price of admission. It ultimately sets The Protégé apart from other, similarly-themed titles.
The Protégé is just a good, fun action-thriller with great repeat value. It falls in that mid-range budget for an action film, maybe just a few notches below the Bourne films. So it’s the perfect popcorn movie outing for the weekend.
"…a good, fun action-thriller with great repeat value."