Flight of the Storks
Runs Fri., Jan. 31–Thurs., Feb. 6 at SIFF Cinema Uptown. Not rated. 180 minutes.
Based on a French crime novel and previously broadcast on TV, this muddled, meandering, pan-European thriller contains loads of familiar elements. We’ve got a confused young hero, Jonathan (Harry Treadaway), who stumbles into a criminal underworld. There are diamond smugglers, illegal heart transplants, South African hit men, a sexy and lethal Israeli soldier babe (Perdita Weeks), not one but two mad scientists, and some sort of Manchurian Candidate–style mind-control scheme going on. The MacGuffin that Jonathan is following is the migration path of storks from Switzerland to Bulgaria, then from Israel to central Africa. His bird-tracking mission was originally meant to help his rich ornithologist mentor, dead at journey’s start but seen in repeated flashbacks. And as he tracks the storks, Jonathan is being tracked by a shady Swiss cop (Clemens Schick), his mustache a malign sneer.
We know that naive Jonathan’s parentage is going to be problematic when he explains to the cop that he’s been orphaned twice: first losing his English birth parents in the Congo, then losing his Swiss adoptive parents more recently. What he’s vague about is the role of ornithologist Max (Danny Keogh), a kind of surrogate father/shrink/Svengali figure to this rootless, nervous young man. Jonathan is not, jumping ahead a bit, really Jonathan; but neither is he some sort of amnesiac Bourne killer with a briefcase full of black-ops skills. He’s more like a fragile escaped mental patient in search of treatment; animal tranquilizers (!) frequently trigger hallucinations and flashbacks that both illuminate and complicate Jonathan’s quest.
Treadaway sometimes suggests a younger, scruffier James McAvoy, and this film’s trippier sequences also made me think of Danny Boyle’s recent Trance—a much more compact and effective head-case thriller. Here, director Jan Kounen often seems to be borrowing from the Trainspotting/The Beach playbook, with Storks’ grotty absinthe bars and fetish clubs, but maybe that’s preferable to the sleek, generic Euro action flicks of today. Storks ends in a flurry of Gothic nonsense—Mary Shelley meets Joseph Conrad in the jungle—that will leave you as bewildered as poor Jonathan. “Who are you?” he’s asked. “That’s what I’m trying to find out,” he replies. Viewers may not share his patience.