"Strike Back" (2010)

Richard Armitage (John Porter), Andrew Lincoln (Hugh Collinson), Jodhi May (Layla Thompson)

Directed by Daniel Percival

Summary: Follows the actions of John Porter, a former SAS Sergeant, and Hugh Collinson, a Section 20 officer in the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6). Both took part in a botched operation on the eve of the 2003 invasion of Iraq where two soldiers in their unit were killed. The series is divided on three main story lines that take place seven years later: in Iraq to rescue a kidnapped British journalist; in Zimbabwe, where he works to extract a deep-cover British agent accused of trying to assassinate Mugabe; and in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where he sets off to retrieve a computer hacker responsible for killing American troops.

Let's all admire this pretty distraction and get it out of the way:

Oh, wait, that's right--Richard Armitage is the best reason for watching this frustrating miniseries. See, there are shows that spark my imagination because of their greatness, and there are shows that approach greatness and yet fall so miserably far that I feel compelled to intervene. "Strike Back" was one of the latter. I was so frustrated by its disjointed elements and squandered chemistry that it motivated me to come up with a whole new idea for a historical series. It's a ways off because of other projects I'm obligated to complete first, but you just watch--I will set this right!

Anyway...some great British character actors in here. Andrew Lincoln, who loved Keira Knightley's married character in Love Actually; Toby Stephens, who played Rochester in the 2006 version of "Jane Eyre" and who performs here with an utterly marvelous American accent; Ewen Bremner, who played Spud in Trainspotting; and Jodhi May, who played doomed sister Alice in The Last of the Mohicans. But the centerpiece was, of course, Richard Armitage. He basically took Mr. Thornton, his deeply troubled, introverted character from "North and South," adds seven kilos of muscle, and picked up two machine guns. Nice!

The writing and the structure of the mini-series, however, left a great deal to be desired. During the first two episodes, which take place in Iraq, I didn't notice the expository dialogue so much, but that's because that storyline was intensely engaging.

I loved the character of Katie, played by Irish beauty Orla Brady, and I especially loved the chemistry between her and Armitage. They positively ignited off one another, portraying intellectual equals who happen to find themselves in a situation where he's in charge. His training, reflexes, and determination to take hold of this second chance all give him the motivation to take the lead. But Brady's performance was such that I never got the impression she was a meek follower. She was just being smart: let the SAS dude take charge! Back on home soil, safe in society, she would hold her own against anyone.

But did we get to see that? Did we get to follow them as they healed? Did we get any inkling of that potential? Nope. All wasted.

Instead of following up on the natural emotional and psychological consequences of the events in episodes one and two, the series moved on to Zimbabwe for episodes three and four, then Afghanistan for episodes five and six. What the hell? You wouldn't want to follow a train of thought to its natural conclusion, would you? Apparently not. Porter loses people who are close to him, but those losses are never explored. His relationship with Katie is never followed up. His rather skanky relationship with a fellow member of MI6 is brief and meaningless.

You can tell that men had the upper hand in writing this dreck. It all fell off toward MANLY HERO cliche and might as well have been Rambo by its conclusion. My frustration grew with every episode until I couldn't do anything but stare at RA's pretty prettiness and grouse about the piss-poor dialogue.

Ugh. So frustrating!

I loved parts of it. LOVED. Loved them so much that I will revisit them again and again. And there are parts I'll never think about again for fear they'll spoil my inspirational mojo.

But it was fun to share watching this with my critique partner, Lorelie Brown, who went crazy with the screen caps and shared this fortuitously-subtitled pic:

Why, indeed, Mr. Armitage.


Kristie (J) said...

I've *gulp* still yet to watch this. But one of the few benefits of having son #1 living at home again is he's a wiz at loading on what I need to watch it. So hopefully soon, very soon, I will be able to share your frustration yet panting at the same time.
And it does sound like they very much needed a woman's input!!

Kristie (J) said...

And oooooooh that penetrating stare he has - wicked!

Carrie Lofty said...

Yes, the director was at least competent enough to make the best use of RA's stare, his eyes, his wicked sharp profile, and any occasion to get his clothes off. So that's a plus :)

Verona St. James said...

Why does Richard Armitage EVER need to be dressed?

Zoe Archer said...

I agree with you on all counts, Carrie. It became almost ridiculous, seeing how much physical punishment our hero could endure or be subject to, and at the expense of character development. Even the prospect of seeing more RA wasn't enough to tempt me to watch the final two episodes.

But I definitely appreciated Lorelie's screenshots. Made it all worthwhile.

Gwen Hayes said...

I'm too scared to watch it. I was afraid it was gonna be all Rambo. Maybe I'll watch it with no volume.

LorelieLong said...

Gwen, watch the first two episodes, then mute for the next four. ;)

Beyond the lack of follow through with the emotionality of the first couple episodes, I think what bothered me most was the use (or lack there of) of the daughter. Oh, he must be super-angsty over dying but can't show any actual weakness? Let's reference the daughter. Ok, he's safe, she can be shoved away & forgotten again.

jmc said...

What did you think of RA as Lucas North in the last couple series of MI-5/Spooks? Better than this?

Carrie Lofty said...

jmc, by all critical counts, this is considered Rambo-esque and emotionally lightweight compared to his role as Lucas North. In fact the British critics were particularly hard of this because of how good his is in MI5/Spooks. So now that I'm done with "Life on Mars" and "Ashes to Ashes," guess which show I'm going to glom next???

Watch the first two episodes of "Strike Back" if you can, but the rest are completely expendable.

DRS0009 said...

I agree with you about the writing and missed opportunities with characters. I thought Toby Stephens American accent was right on - he could have taught Sarah from Spooks (MI-5) a thing or two.

Episodes 5 and 6 were the best written I thought. The relationship with John Porter and Jerry (Bipolar programmer) was great - the best moment was the final moment they had together. The final scene with Porter and Collison was good too (where Collison admitted his part in the shooting).

I watched on a big screen TV and the color was amazing so kudos for the cinematographer.

Carrie Lofty said...

I think my dissatisfaction with the last two episodes dealt with the lack of resolution with his daughter or Danni. It went from being a serious military thriller in eps 1 & 2 to a weird buddy road movie--even the music to the opening was different, like we were suddenly watching LETHAL WEAPON. The shift between the three settings was just too jarring to make for a coherent miniseries. I appreciated the attempt and would watch more installments (they left it wide open for sequels), but I'll be hoping for more depth. Good to see Ewen Bremner is just as bizarre and psychotic as ever :)