The Movie Waffler New Release Review - JERICHO RIDGE | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - JERICHO RIDGE

Jericho Ridge review
A small town deputy sheriff finds her police department under siege when her son gets involved with a drug cartel.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Will Gilbey

Starring: Nikki Amuka-Bird, Zack Morris, Chris Reilly, Michael Socha, Solly McLeod, Simon Kunz

Jericho Ridge poster

It's no longer unusual to find middle-aged actresses occupying the lead roles in action movies. But just as Tom Cruise isn't playing a fiftysomething in any relatable sense in the Mission: Impossible movies, neither are Kate Beckinsale, Jennifer Lopez, Milla Jovovich or Olga Kurylenko playing their ages in their action movies. Most of the characters they play could be swapped out for twentysomethings and there would be no discernible difference. Jericho Ridge stands out in that not only does it star an actress in her late forties - Nikki Amuka-Bird - but she's playing a relatable middle-aged woman, one who doesn't boast bulging biceps or possess martial arts skills, one who has to deal with the worry of raising a teenage son on top of her demanding job.

Amuka-Bird plays Tabby, a small town deputy sheriff who returns to her job for the first time after being involved in a car crash that has left her hobbling with the aid of a crutch. Tabby picked a hell of a time to return to her job: two nights previous a local meth dealer was executed with a bullet to the back of his head, while the following night the station was broken into and a couple of pistols stolen from the storage room. Thanks to her physical condition, Tabby is assigned the duty of manning the station while her macho male colleagues head out to follow a tip-off that a local doomsday prepper may have been involved in the break-in.

Jericho Ridge review

It all starts off relatively quiet, with Tabby fending off complaints about teenagers partying in the woods, but then she hears rumours of her teenage son (Zack Morris) dealing drugs at the same party. As if that wasn't stressful enough, it turns out the locksmith who showed up to repair the station's doors isn't really a tradesman at all: he's there to find whatever the previous burglar failed to uncover. Surprised by Tabby, the stranger flees, only to soon return with another man and a variety of high powered weapons. With nothing to defend herself with but a pistol fitted with the wrong sized bullets (making it a potential hand grenade), Tabby is forced to defend the station until the state police arrive, but they're a full 30 minutes away!

Writer/director Will Gilbey impresses in his directorial debut with some economical filmmaking that is never showy but always gets the point across clearly. He takes the time to lay out the geography of his single location early on, which pays dividends later when the siege begins as it means we're fully aware of how exposed Tabby is from attacks on various fronts. It's simple, logical storytelling, but we don't always get such a thing, particularly in the realm of low budget action movies.

Jericho Ridge review

The likes of John Carpenter and Walter Hill are clearly an influence here, particularly Carpenter's Assault on Precinct 13, itself heavily inspired by Howard Hawks' siege western Rio Bravo. There's even a jailed meth-head named Macready (presumably named after Kurt Russell's protagonist from Carpenter's The Thing) thrown into the mix. Unlike the prisoners of Assault however, who ally themselves with the law to survive the night, this Macready (Michael Socha) can't be trusted, which adds an extra layer of threat for Tabby to deal with.

Like a Hawks' movie, the action comes in brief bursts, and Gilbey makes great use of the striking image of illuminated tracer fire slicing through the night air. There's also clever use of the dashcams on police cars, which opens up the action without leaving the station, as Tabby observes her colleagues remotely through her PC screen. But perhaps what's most impressive about Jericho Ridge is how it never causes us to question its American setting despite being filmed in Kosovo with an entirely British cast.

Jericho Ridge review

Most crucially, we're given a heroine we care about, one with vulnerability and human flaws, which makes her far more relatable than the usual action heroines, who tend to be little more than gender-swapped versions of the indestructible heroes traditionally played by musclebound men. Tabby is fuelled not just by her own survival, but by a mother's instinct to protect her son. Amuka-Bird is excellent as a woman at a low ebb forced to call on her wits to take down a physically superior and heavily armed foe. There are none of the usual eye-rolling moments where a 5'2" woman unfeasibly beats up a 6'6" male opponent (usually by strangling him between her thighs) here. Rather it's Tabby's ingenuity that gives her an edge. Horror filmmakers have understood this dynamic for decades, but it seems the action genre is only now catching up.

Ironically, prior to making his directorial debut, Gilbey was known for writing screenplays for the Rise of the Footsoldier franchise and various other geezer gangster flicks, the very definition of lads' night in movies. With Jericho Ridge however he's made an action movie that will appeal just as much to a female audience as to the typical bloke seeking something heavy on gun play to watch while he polishes off a post-pub curry on a Friday night (not to stereotype or anything). I have to confess I'm not a fan of modern action movies for the very reason that I struggle to care about heroes who are physically capable of beating any opponent (it's why superhero movies continually fail to engage me), but if we get more heroes in the broken mould of Amuka-Bird's Tabby, I just might be enticed back to the genre.

Jericho Ridge
 is in UK cinemas from April 26th and on VOD from April 29th.

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