REVIEW: “SAS: Red Notice” (2021)


I’ve always been able to make time for a good action flick. Norwegian filmmaker Magnus Martens directs “SAS: Red Notice”, the new British action-thriller based on the novel of the same name by Andy McNab. Hardly original but reasonably entertaining, “SAS: Red Notice” squeezes everything it can out of its “Die Hard on a Train” premise. But it turns out to be a classic case of a movie that simply runs out of ideas. And while it does throw in a handful of original twists, most of them land with a thud.

The film stars Sam Heughan from television’s “Outlander” giving us his best ‘James Bond meets John McClain’ impression (sadly he doesn’t seem comfortable filling either’s shoes). Heughan plays cold-as-ice SAS Special Agent Tom Buckingham III (how’s that for a British name). His ability to shut off his emotions makes him one of the British government’s most lethal and effective agents. It has a much different affect on his relationship with his loving girlfriend Sophie (Hannah John-Kamen). He plans on asking her to marry him, but she’s concerned about his frosty demeanor.


Image Courtesy of Sky Cinema

The film opens with a beautifully shot prologue that quickly turns gritty and violent. In the beautiful mountains of Georgia near the Black Sea we’re introduced to the Black Swans, a mercenary group led by by William Lewis (Tom Wilkinson) and his family – his hardcore daughter Grace (Ruby Rose) and his dimmer but loyal son Olly (Owain Yeoman). The Swans secretly meet with a crooked military liaison named Clements (Andy Serkis) working for the Prime Minister (Ray Panthaki) who hires them to clear out a local village who refuses to relocate so that a gas pipeline can be ran through the area.

The Swans carry out the blood-soaked contract but are tagged by British SAS who issue red notices (essentially high-priority arrest warrants) for William, Grace, and Olly. This leads to the story’s labyrinthine political sub-plot involving the SAS attempting to take down the Swans, the Prime Minister trying to cover his tracks, and the Swans threatening terroristic attacks for being hung out to dry by the Prime Minister. All of it adds some okay twists and a few interesting layers to the story. But it also bogs things down and leaves you thirsty for the bigger action bits.

During all of this Tom schedules a romantic trip to Paris with Sophie where he plans on popping the question. But their train ride is interrupted by none other than a ruthless Grace and her mercs who hijack the Paris-bound Eurostar and bring it to a stop in the tunnel that runs under the English Channel. But little does she know Tom Buckingham III is onboard and he’s going to use his particular set of skills (I know, different guy) to make sure Grace and her goons have a fight on their hands.


Image Courtesy of Sky Cinema

The inevitable action in the tunnel starts strong and even though it’s familiar and formulaic, there’s enough energy to keep things upbeat and entertaining. Ruby Rose is a big reason why, gelling charisma and psychopathy to create a fun and engaging villain. Unfortunately the story does start to run out of gas both narratively and in the action scenes. Things pep up when Tom’s friends with the SAS and Clement and his team all converge on the tunnel. But even then the movie doesn’t seem confident in what it wants to do with all of its moving parts. It ends with an inevitable but really satisfying showdown that would have ended things on a high note. But regrettably there’s a laughably bad epilogue that even my far more forgiving wife couldn’t help but chuckle at.

Despite being a little too long and all over the place, “SAS: Red Notice” is still a pretty easy watch. There’s not much here that will stick with you or that will encourage a revisit. I understand there are two more books in Andy McNab’s Tom Buckingham series. It’s hard to say this movie warrants a trilogy, but I’ve seen franchises built on a lot worse. As usual, time (and more importantly money) will ultimately tell. “SAS: Red Notice” is now streaming on VOD.



5 thoughts on “REVIEW: “SAS: Red Notice” (2021)

  1. I don’t think we Brits make serious action movies so well. Sam Heughan might pull a lot of ladies in though, he has a ginormous fanbase from Outlander. Pity they didn’t use his Missis (Caitriona Balfi) from the series (and in real life) as one of the characters, it would have broken box office records 🤣

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