Chief of Station review – perma-scowled Aaron Eckhart bids for Liam Neeson ‘geri-action’ market

Estimated read time 2 min read

Judging by his recent filmography, Aaron Eckhart is making a play for the Liam Neeson “geri-action” market. This latest thriller, directed by straight-to-streaming action kingpin Jesse V Johnson, is pitched close to Charles Bronson territory, with the perma-scowled Eckster speaking in a menacing lean-in whisper, and at one point telegraphing his status as a grief-stricken widow/ticking timebomb by slumping against the cold-cuts fridge in the supermarket.

Eckhart plays CIA operative and outgoing Budapest bureau head Benjamin Malloy, whose Algerian wife Farrah (Laëtitia Eido) is about to take over from him before she is killed in a restaurant bombing on their anniversary. Catapulted into a world of pain, he’s nudged closer to the edge when internal affairs later identify Farrah as a possible Russian double agent. Due to meet up with his son (Chris Petrovski) in Croatia, he opts for a stop-off in his old Hungarian stomping ground to nose around what exactly his other half was up to, starting with whether she was actually in cahoots with his FSB opposite number Evgeny (Nick Moran).

In the absence of any feel for intrigue, not least the potential intricacies of a husband-and-wife spook team, Johnson shuffles a deck of espionage-film cliches largely at random – including frequent appearances for the card in which someone points out that, in this world, can you really know anyone? Chief of Station aspires to 21st-century new world order relevancy, with an amoral Russia challenging the west. But instead of the John le Carré scalpel, we get overworked cobblers like: “There’s a reason why the clandestine world is described as a wilderness of mirrors.” Alex Pettyfer, as the new CIA station chief John Branca, has all the acting presence and immediacy of a man reading his WhatsApp messages at the same time (or maybe it was a better script). Meanwhile, Moran camps it up with a ludicrous, Stolichnaya-chilled accent perilously close to Borat.

This ham-fisted stuff just postpones Johnson deploying his particular set of skills, with the head-breaking finally arriving 40 minutes in. Olga Kurylenko makes an impression in her brief screen time as an elfin, skylight-invading sniper. And the rangy and trenchant Eckhart does convincingly bring the ruckus in a way that suggests an ageing 007. But if that’s a promising sign for this new phase of his career, he can do better than this dour and charmless parade.


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