From rousing war films to gory massacres, this month’s action picks are bloodier than usual.
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By Robert Daniels
‘The Last Deal’
Rent or buy on most major platforms.
Similar to Robert DeNiro’s sports-betting character in “Casino,” the protagonist of the “The Last Deal,” Vincent (Anthony Molinari), begins with a workmanlike voice-over in this crime thriller from the writer-director Jonathan Salemi, explaining how he rose from a weed grower to a top distributor only to fall on hard times. A dubious friend of Vincent’s, Bobby (Mister Fitzgerald), has a lifeline: Some Armenians want to sell cheap product to them that can be flipped for five times the price. It seems too good to be true.
Vincent reaches out to Bobby’s dangerous loan shark, a gangster known as The Boss (Sala Baker), for cash to buy the weed. But when the Armenians double cross him, making it near impossible to pay back the loan shark, his pregnant girlfriend (Jeffri Lauren) and his business come under grave risk by the furious gangster.
In the starring role, Molinari, a former stuntman, delivers a surprisingly vulnerable yet determined performance as a man at the end of his rope, who must shoot, stab, punch and claw if he hopes to see tomorrow.
Stream it on Netflix.
In an awards season where the German director Edward Berger’s antiwar drama “All Quiet on the Western Front” has garnered considerable attention, the Norwegian director Erik Skjoldbjaerg’s “Narvik” — another story streaming on Netflix about the toxicity of nationalism — has flown surprisingly under the radar.
Set in 1940, the film stars Carl Martin Eggesbo as Cpl. Gunnar Tofte, a young father and soldier in the peaceful Norwegian army. Up until this point, Norway has been a neutral observer to World War II. But when the country is suddenly invaded by Germany, Tofte’s idyllic life is shattered: Dispatched to the front and later captured by the Nazi army, he becomes a prisoner of war.
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Apart from the sterling battle sequences, where big explosions arrive in shocking waves and young men are quickly snuffed out by the inherent apathy of conflict, “Narvik” stands as the rare war film to focus on a woman. With Tofte away, his wife, Ingrid (Kristine Hartgen), takes center stage, spying for the British while serving as a translator for the Germans. She does this while trying to maintain the safety of their young son. It’s a fraught position that places Ingrid firmly in danger and causes Tofte to thoughtfully question what he’s really fighting for — his country or his family?
‘Paid in Blood’
Stream it on Amazon Prime Video.
The crime syndicate in the writer-director Yoon Young-bin’s crime-action flick isn’t your prototypical gang of outlaws. Based in the modest South Korean coastal city of Gangneung, it’s helmed by the tranquil Chairman Oh (Kim Se-joon), who exerts his power economically rather than through knives and bloodshed. His young, levelheaded lieutenant Kim Gil-seok (Yoo Oh-seong) is emblematic of his boss’s uncommon approach. He also stands to inherit a resort built by Chairman Oh. The gift puts Kim at odds with the other underlings. That divide is exploited by the ruthless gangster Lee Min-seok (Jang Hyuk), who rose to being a debt collector after washing up ashore from Seoul 10 years ago in the hull of a fishing boat.
In “Paid in Blood,” Lee plays by a different yet traditional set of rules: He will kill without remorse. The film’s vicious knife fights and bruising hand-to-hand brawls are fluidly composed, with sharp cuts and deft shots capturing angular bodies moving through confined spaces. But underneath them is an arresting struggle between old school and new school, not unlike the kind found in revisionist westerns, which wonderfully plays with the tropes of the genre.
Stream it on Tubi.
Another World War II effort, this one told from the perspective of Russia, follows the unlikely story of a Russian pilot fighting for survival in Nazi-occupied territory. The director Renat Davletyarov’s visceral addition to the war genre works like “The Revenant.” Nikolai Komlev (Pyotr Fyodorov), an ace fighter, is shot down. His gunner dies protecting him; he fights off a pack of wolves with his bare hands; a debilitating infection attacks the wounds on his feet; and after dragging his own limp body across an entire country to escape the enemy and receive medical care, his legs are amputated.
Will the woman he left during the war still love him? Can he still fly? These are the questions that swim in the aviator’s mind in this rousing, crowd-pleasing flick in which the aerial dog fights thrill by virtue of immersive mounted cameras on airplane wings and sturdy smirkishes punctuated by the sound of whizzing bullets.
‘Project Wolf Hunting’
Rent or buy on most major platforms.
“Blood, Blood, and More Blood” is what the South Korean writer-director Kim Hong-sun’s gory, genre-bending crime film “Project Wolf Hunting” should be called. It begins as a group of convicts are extradited in a cargo ship from the Philippines back to South Korea. Despite the cops’ careful planning, the criminals overtake the ship through a murderous rampage that leaves many of the police officers dead. Unbeknown to everyone is the mysterious passenger Alpha (Choi Gwi-hwa) — a supersoldier dating back to 1911 — hibernating in the hull of the ship. His awakening causes the hunters to become the hunted as they battle for survival in the middle of the East China Sea.
With so much carnage, it feels superfluous to get into the characters; but a couple of them do stick out, like the Zen killer Lee Do-il (Jang Dong-yoon) and the cartoonish old convict Soo-cheol (Son Jong-hak). Make no mistake, however, the star here is the quickly rising body count. Alpha smashes faces with one punch, crushes chest cavities with a single stomp and flings carcasses around like duffel bags. “Project Wolf Hunting” is a gruesome and grisly tale that doesn’t just provide buckets of blood. It rides a tidal wave.
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