Netflix UK film review: Mercenary (Mercenaire)
James R | On 04, Dec 2016
Director: Sacha Wolff
Cast: Toki Pilioko, Iliana Zabeth, Mikaele Tuugahala
Watch Mercenary online in the UK: Netflix UK
Newcomer Toki Pilioko is remarkable in this powerfully simple sports drama about Soane, a young rugby player who moves from his New Caledonian home to France, after a talent scout comes knocking.
Soane’s departure offers him an escape from his abusive father, who whips him with a nasty brutality that will shock even the most prepared audiences, but he finds himself just as unwanted in his new home. Instead of the team he was intended for, he winds up at a tiny club – the kind of place where his size doesn’t match the rest of the group and there’s no guarantee of wages.
And so he turns to nightclub security as a way to get by, falling in love in the process with shop cashier Coralie (Iliana Zabeth). Even as they seem to make a connection, there’s a constant feeling of Soane being an outsider, bullied and shunned by teammates (to often-cruel extremes), even though his colonial upbringing technically makes him as French as the rest of them.
Pilioko’s physical heft is really quite astonishing, standing out against the screen with a bulk that almost makes his hidden emotional baggage visible. Inevitably, that past catches up him, leaving him torn between identities, loyalties and guilt, but what impresses is the way that this is all communicated by its lead without barely saying a words; it’s Pilioko’s facial expressions and limbs that matter.
The sports sequences, as you’d expect, are therefore as rough and ready as the violence on display elsewhere, the urban grittiness shot by director Sacha Wolff marking a striking contrast to the tranquil ocean backdrop of his Pacific home. (The fact that this is Wolff’s feature debut makes the whole thing even more impressive – no wonder Netflix snapped it up as a global exclusive, following an award win at Cannes.) It’s when that physicality combines with Soane’s inner anguish that Mercenary really comes to life, as we see the mostly mute loner unleash his fury off the pitch in a blistering, heartfelt Haka; if actions speak louder that words, this is a deafening roar.
Mercenary is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription.