Like most folks, I was introduced to the stuntwoman turned actress Zöe Bell through her performance in Quentin Tarantino’s part of Grindhouse, Death Proof. While her acting was only so-so, the skill she showed with her stunt work was incredible, and when I came home and checked her out, I was surprised to see how many times I had seen her work and not known it. FromXena: Warrior Princess and Alias to Kill Bill 1 & 2, Bell had worked the stunt double for many of my favorite shows and films, but when I heard that she had headlined a movie on her own, I was a bit skeptical. After all, her acting in in Death Proofhadn’t blown me away and the film had been produced as a web series for Crackle.com. Still I was interested enough by the attachment of comic book writer Ed Brubaker and the idea of seeing the beautiful Australian stuntwoman kick some ass. So with some trepidation, I checked out 2009’s Angel of Death, and right before my eyes, a new action star was born.
Eve (Zöe Bell) is an assassin for hire, but when a hit goes wrong causing her to accidentally kill a 14-year-old girl and end up with a knife embedded in her head, the cold-blooded killer starts to have problems getting her job done. Dr Rankin (Doug Jones) removes the knife, but warns Grahame (Brian Poth), Eve’s handler, that she may never be the same again. The tough as nail killer isn’t going to let a little thing like a knife wound to the head get her down. Eve begins to have hallucinations of the young girl she killed encouraging her to get her revenge on the mob family that hired her for that ill fated hit. She becomes an unstoppable force taking out the mobsters from the ground up as she guns for the head of the family.
After reading over the synopsis, it should come as no surprise to anyone that Angel of Death was written by a comic book writer, Ed Brubaker. Angel of Death was the first screenwriting gig for Brubaker, best known for his gritty take on Captain America (as well as killing off the beloved character), and his foundation in comic books definitely shows through in this tale. It even invades the cinematic style paneled scene transitions that brought to mind Ang Lee’s Hulk. Being a fan of Brubaker’s work, I found his scripting and dialog to be just as strong off the page as on it. However, some of the fantastical portions of the plot (i.e. the knife sticking out of Eve’s head) which would have worked fine in the pages of a comic don’t quite mesh with the overexposed, gritty style of the film. For a first time effort, Brubaker really scores. There’s talk of a sequel coming down the pipeline, and I for one can’t wait to see where the writer takes the story.
Before I get into talking about the acting, I want to take a moment to talk about director Paul Etheredge. This is only his second feature, his first was a gay themed slasher called HellBent that I’m planning to look at in the near future. Etheredge has been in the business for a number of years in the art department for films like I Shot Andy Warhol and Oliver Stone’s JFK, and that background serves him well here. While some of the action seems outside of reality, the film itself has a great look to it though it does occasionally border on that tired overexposed look that has been done to death. Overall, the whole film has a great style, and the action sequences, which are the bread and butter of this film, look incredible. Part of this is due to the special skills of the leading lady, but even the most skilled action star can only do so much. The credit should rightfully go to Etheredge and his cinematographer Carl Herse for providing some great action set pieces.
Now, on to Ms. Bell. Zöe’s acting has really improved from Death Proof to Angel of Death, and in a bonus feature on the DVD, she talks about going to an acting coach and really getting inside the head of her character. The hard work she put in really pays off, and by all rights and reasons, Zöe Bell should be a huge action star. She has the acting chops, the physical presence, and the experience to do her own stunts and make them look great. In many female-fueled action films, it is hard to believe that the waify star could take down a lumbering brute or cold bloodedly blow someone away, but I didn’t have that kind of issue with Bell at all. Everything about this performance was spot on, and I’m glad to see that she’s getting some other roles. She recently appeared in Drew Barrymore’s Whip It and 2009’s Gamer, as well as upcoming roles in Wesley Snipes film Game of Death and her second lead performance in The Reapers.
Several great performances in this film deserve a mention. First off, I want to say that this film boasts a “featured” performance from Ted Rami. The amount of time he has on screen is directly proportionate to the amount of time it took you to read this sentence. It is always nice to see Ted pop up, but I don’t think such a minuscule role really deserved special billing. Lucy Lawless, who Bell got her start stunt doubling for, shows up in a slightly larger role than Mr. Rami (who is also a Xena alum). The former Amazon Princess is nearly unrecognizable as Eve’s prostitute with a heart of gold neighbor, but it was fun to see her as well. Perhaps the biggest surprise performance came from Jake Abel as the twenty something mob boss in waiting Cameron Downes. He was thoroughly a little shit, but like Bell, he completely convinced me he could be the arrogant psycho douche bag that he plays. Brian Poth, who is a regular on TV’sSouthland, as Eve’s handler and Doug Jones, Abe Sapien from Hellboy: The Golden Army, both impress in their respective roles as well.
Angel of Death is not a film that inspired high expectations. With its comic book writer, stuntwoman star, and web series hallmarks, I figured on a middling stab at an action film at best. Imagine my surprise when I discovered it was not only one of the better action movies I’ve seen in a while, but it also introduced me to a beautiful and believable action heroine. So if you like your chicks kicking ass, your action fast and furious, and your films hard-boiled, then I highly recommend checking one out. This film might be calledAngel of Death, but for me it was nearly action film heaven.