Director: Philipp Stölzl
Cast: Aaron Eckhart, Olga Kurylenko, Liana Liberato
Watch The Expatriate online in the UK: Netflix UK
Man gets betrayed. Man’s life is erased/Man’s daughter is kidnapped. Man fortunately happens to be an ex-CIA agent. Man wreaks revenge. Things blow up.
Put Liam Neeson into that role and you have Taken, Taken 2 or Unknown. Insert Aaron Eckhart and you get The Expatriate. That doesn’t mean Philipp Stölzl’s thriller is any better or worse. In fact, there’s no real difference between them. That’s the film’s best asset – and its biggest problem. Accept it, and this is a perfectly adequate diversion for an hour or two.
Eckhart plays a former agent turned security consultant for the government. But one day, when some sensitive documents go missing, he finds his company, his money – every record of his existence – wiped out. Erased. That’s the US title of the film and it’s better than the UK one, which only seems to emphasise the bland identity of its male lead. (Exhibit A: He’s called Ben Logan, the only name in movie history duller than John Carter.)
Still, Eckhart does blank facial expression with an admirable efficiency, punching and kicking his way through the workmanlike plot. Olga Kurylenko almost literally phones it in as his former CIA handler and the script dabbles with some truly dire dialogue – “It’s no secret that you and Ben were… intimate,” recites one agent, who might as well be called Basil Exposition – but Stölzl’s visuals actually benefit from the film’s plodding pace. No shaky camera work here: the editing by Tomorrow Never Dies’ Dominique Fortin is clean, making the solid action sequences easy to follow.
Combined with Stölzl’s eye for locations – Antwerp isn’t Paris, but it’s unfamiliar enough to add some intrigue – and the impressive Liana Liberato, who convinces more than Taken’s Maggie Grace as Ben’s resourceful daughter, and The Expatriate rolls along its unsurprising groove with an unexpected zip.
The most exciting thing about The Expatriate might be its release format – the film debuted on iTunes for two weeks before arriving in cinemas in 2013 and, after a DVD release, has landed on Netflix UK. Nonetheless, this is enjoyably undemanding stuff. There’s nothing Unknown about it, but this low-budget action flick’s similarity to Liam Neeson’s back catalogue applies to the entertainment factor too: The Expatriate proves you can have just as much fun as Liam with a lot less money. There are worse lessons to hand down from daddy to daughter.