Solider is a 1998 action, drama, sci-fi film directed by Paul W.S. Anderson and stars Kurt Russell, Jason Scott Lee, Jason Isaacs, Connie Nielsen, Sean Pertwee, and Gary Busey. The film centers on a highly skilled soldier named Todd, who was trained from birth. Early on in the film, he ends up being deemed obsolete and dumped on a waste planet where he is reluctantly taken in by a community of defenseless, stranded wayfarers. When the army he used to work for comes and threatens the planet, Todd takes arms to protect the colonists, who exposed a more human side to his character through his recurring interactions with them.
Going in, I’d had no idea what to expect in regards to the film’s overall quality. Sure the premise has been explored in other sci-fi dramas, but the theme of what makes one human is a universal one and can still work when handled by the right hands. The cast includes very talented actors such as Russell, Isaacs, and Busey, who are always reliable in delivering solid performances. On a screenwriting front, there isn’t much to worry about either. David Peoples has been the writer for critically acclaimed films such as Blade Runner, Unforgiven, and 12 Monkeys.
There isn’t much that would work against this film going off all of those details at face value. However, that would require me to ignore what is possibly the most important factor in any film’s quality—the director. And to be honest, I’ll have to say that Paul W.S. Anderson is a pretty bad one. At best, you might get something akin to a guilty pleasure like Mortal Kombat or Alien vs. Predator. At worst, you get a complete mess of film-making, such as The Resident Evil live-action series. Filled to the brim with sloppily directed and nearly incomprehensible action. So when you have something like Soldier that is meant to be action-driven for large portions of the film, I have fair reason to be concerned if Anderson would take away from the set-pieces when they’re are meant to be a huge selling point.
So after having finished watching the film and thinking it over, does Anderson’s direction negativity impact the film significantly?
Well, it’s both yes, and no.
As I’ll expect, the action was sadly lackluster. Now in concept, the set-pieces look very fun on paper. But Anderson’s direction completely lets it down. There is a lack of flow in the action that makes it impossible for any blow or injury to visually impact any sort of impact. I didn’t feel as excited watching the action as I should have, except in a few instances. And that’s probably the worst strike I would give to an action movie. Another aspect of Anderson’s direction that I did not enjoy was all the constant slow-mo and rapidly edited sequences meant to get you into Todd’s mindset. The former feels distracting in the scenes used, and the latter really fails to immerse you in the character when they feel so incoherent. This is kinda the point behind their usage, but it could have executed a lot better.
Thankfully, it’s not all doom and gloom. Outside of the action and the scenes I’ve mentioned, the direction is pretty serviceable. There’s is a real sense of mood and atmosphere once the movie moves to the waste planet. Quieter moments are well handled to ensure that they achieve the impact they are supposed to have. There is some really awesome use of lighting in some shots, particularity in the 3rd act, that really help in creating tension. So while I’ll still wish there was a better director on board this film, particularly so that the action would be visually coherent, Anderson shows some competence that better reflects his skill as a director.
Production-wise, there is some really great talent at the display. David Tattersall’s cinematography really impressed me. There are a lot of really visually nice compositions that keep you paying attention to the film and demonstrates his ability to create striking imagery. The music by Joel McNeely is perfect for this movie. Bombastic in action. Somber for the quieter moments. It fits Solider smoothly, and I can’t imagine how it could have been any better. The real highlight, and for me, the strongest part of the film is in its set design.
Simply put, it’s pretty fantastic. The waste planet really grabs my attention through its many little details in the background and for looking so lived in. As if people have been living there. It’s grimy in all of the best ways. In addition to that, they provide an interesting location for the action to take place here. With all of the many corridors and vertically, that is thankfully taken advantage of.
On an acting front, there isn’t much to fault here. All of the actors make the most of the material they are working with. Kurt Russell plays a much more stoic and quiet character than in other films he starred in the past. Still, he effectively sells the physicality and the emotional journey his character goes through. Jason Isaacs makes for a pretty fun main villain, and Gary Busey does what you what from Busey in all of the best ways. I can’t really think of a weak link here. Sure these actors have done better elsewhere, but each and every one of them turns in some pretty solid work.
However, aside from the action direction, there is one big issue with this movie that holds it back far more than I’ve would have liked. Simply put, it’s too short. An additional 20 minutes to its 90-minute run-time would have been perfectly great to add in scenes that would have added more characterization and narrative intrigue. The foundation for Solider works, but the more dramatic moments work on their own but are brought down when connected to the overall film because of a lack of emotional investment in what’s going on. If there were some added scenes in the 1st and 2nd arcs, I’ve felt it would have made for a much stronger film without affecting its overall intentions and tone.
To conclude, Solider left me conflicted. It’s marred down by poor action, uneven direction, and its short run-time. But the acting, production values, and narrative concepts kept my attention throughout just enough. While you can do better, in my opinion, it does serve its job as a disposable sci-fi action flick. However, I’ve believed that this could have been a much stronger film with a stronger director and more added content.
Final Verdict: 5/10