THE PROTEGE is directed by Martin Campbell (GOLDENEYE, CASINO ROYALE). It stars Maggie Q, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Keaton, and Robert Patrick.
Assassin Moody rescues the young girl Anna from Vietnam in 1991, following traumatic events that left her an orphan. Three decades later, Anna leads a double life as an assassin and as an employee in a rare book shop. Returning from a mission, her mentor is shot down and she must go on an assignment to uncover secrets regarding someone from their past. But it’s not long before she’s in over her head, with deadly foes aware that she’s on their trail.
THE PROTEGE is one of those films that has some impactful moments of super gory R-rated violence, but it can’t make up its mind as to what kind of movie it wants to be. Martin Campbell is a usually reliable director, having helmed two of the best films in the JAMES BOND franchise, and doing many other memorable movies along the way. The movie also has a solid enough cast, but despite some moments that have an impact here and then, all that really stuck in my head when it was all said and done was the gore.
I won’t argue with the casting of THE PROTEGE, which ultimately stands as the movie’s strongest quality. Maggie Q (who I was admittedly not familiar with prior to seeing the movie) steals the show in the title role as a woman leading a dual life, selling rare books somedays and killing people on others. She’s at home in the scenes that demand a sharp tongue and those that require an equally sharp knife. She IS the movie, though supporting performances from Samuel L. Jackson, a surprisingly witty and entertaining Michael Keaton, and an underused Robert Patrick to make for some decent moments.
I’ll also give credit for the moment of straight-up R-rated violence that show no mercy. THE PROTEGE holds nothing back in these sequences and the film earns its restricted rating, with the tone of the movie changing on a dime, and rather frequently at that. While these shifts can be a bit abrupt at times, I won’t deny that if the filmmakers wanted to shock me with the violence and where it comes from, often out of nowhere, they’ve succeeded here.
Sadly, the movie never quite comes together. It’s most memorable for its gory action sequences and the chemistry between Maggie Q and Michael Keaton, though the movie buries this under countless other tertiary plot points that feel more like a chore than competent world building. I often criticize films for a lack of a plot and mindless over-the-top violence, but I have the opposite problem here; THE PROTEGE tries to have too much plot, and the tone of the movie is all over the place. The sequences between Maggie Q and Michael Keaton are fantastic but feel like they belong in a different movie. In the end it ultimately feels like the finished product wants to be about three different movies, and it can’t choose. There's even a plot twist involving Samuel L. Jackson's character that's blatantly plagiarized from his character/story arc in CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLIDER.
The violence of THE PROTEGE and a handful of moments of chemistry between Michael Keaton and Maggie Q stuck with me after I finished watching the movie, though sadly, not much else did. This is the kind of movie you can go in and watch and enjoy it while you’re watching it, but you’ll likely have forgotten most of it a few days later. It’ll be a decent violent time killer when it hits home video and streaming, but don’t rush to the theater.