Ever wonder why your algorithm doesn’t tip you off to a movie where Olga Kurylenko channels her inner John Wick on the French Riviera? Julien Leclercq’s Sentinelle might have slipped under the Netflix radar, quietly premiering among the many foreign films on the platform. However, don’t dismiss it just yet. Despite the under-the-radar release, Sentinelle offers a brisk, stylish action thriller with unexpected moments of grace.
Kurylenko, known for her role as a “Bond girl” in Quantum of Solace, hasn’t had the career trajectory some may have expected. Yet, her performances in underrated gems like Oblivion, To the Wonder, and The Man Who Killed Don Quixote have garnered her a unique following. Sentinelle may not be a cinematic heavyweight, but it’s an 80-minute French action flick that delivers swift, elegantly filmed spine-snapping action with surprising touches of grace.
The story kicks off in Syria, where Klara (Kurylenko), a French army interpreter, witnesses the brutal killing of her comrades by a young suicide bomber. Returning to Nice, she becomes part of Opération Sentinelle, a real-life domestic military operation initiated by France after the 2015 terror attacks. The film captures the dissonance of fully armed soldiers patrolling sunny Mediterranean boardwalks alongside ordinary citizens, creating a surreal and monstrous tableau.
Haunted by her wartime experiences and numbing her pain with opioids, Klara becomes hyper-vigilant, seeing threats everywhere. The film explores the universal atmosphere of suspicion and hate as Klara, in a blunt yet revealing moment, trains her rifle on a child mimicking the open-armed stance of the boy from the film’s opening sequence. The narrative takes a personal turn when Klara’s sister Tania (Marilyn Lima) is assaulted after a night out. Frustrated with the slow progress of the police investigation, Klara takes matters into her own hands, unleashing a series of intense beatdowns on those responsible.
While the influence of the John Wick series is evident, Sentinelle distinguishes itself. With a modest budget and Kurylenko not being the seasoned action star like Keanu Reeves or Charlize Theron, the film takes a different approach. Klara is not a slick killing machine but a vulnerable, desperate character. Each fight scene carries the weight of potential consequences, adding unpredictability and a sense of penance to the story. Kurylenko’s haunting beauty perfectly fits Klara’s unrelenting desperation, tying together the film’s diverse tones.
Sentinelle may not cater to all tastes. Action enthusiasts might crave more explosive setpieces, while arthouse aficionados may find fault in the film’s simple characterizations and straightforward storyline, especially as it delves into complex issues like terrorism, militarism, assault, and addiction. Yet, there’s merit in the film’s lean, efficient storytelling that captivates without overstaying its welcome.