Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 08/19/21 13:46:05

"Not a South African blockbuster, but moving in that direction."
2 stars (Pretty Bad)

SCREENED AT THE 2021 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: It doesn't seem like very long ago that I was watching a South African crime movie at Fantasia with the director talking about how it was almost impossible to make because the only source of funding was the government and all they wanted to do was prestige apartheid dramas, although it can't have been too long before "District 9" happened. Times have changed enough since then that at least a few sleek, commercial films like "Indemnity" are coming out; and if they're not yet exactly great yet, you can at least see some potential.

Cape Town firefighter Theo Abrams (Jarrid Geduld) survived a major blaze but his PTSD has restricted him to desk duty, although he has bristled at seeing his therapist (Susan Danford). Elsewhere, a former employee of shady corporation M-Tech (Abduragman Adams) and a hacker associate are looking for Theo but are just as happy to make contact with his wife Angela (Nicole Fortuin), a respected reporter, about the strange list of men all across Africa found on the company's serves, over half of whom are either dead or in prison, that includes Theo's name. It's the sort of trail where the target is alerted early, and leads to Theo being on the run for murder, pursued by Detective Rene Williamson (Gail Mabalane), who can see something doesn't add up, although her superior Alan Shard (Andre Jacobs) mostly seems to want the case closed fast.

It's pretty basic direct-to-video material, plot-wise; even when it gets weird or high-concept, it does so in fairly familiar ways, and it often doesn't quite seem like writer/director Travis Taute has a great handle on what might be intriguing and what doesn't quite work. It's the sort of movie that has a massive continent-spanning conspiracy but still feels the need to kidnap Theo's son Wesley (Qaeed Patel) to make sure he's got motivation, along with a conspiracy that seems huge and hyper-competent when they're lurking in the shadows but sloppy once they start trying to murder loose ends. There are moments when characters all but turn directly to the camera to make sure that the audience is included when Theo is being lectured about how PTSD and trauma are real and need to be dealt with like other health problems.

His stubbornness in that regard and abrasiveness makes Theo the toughest potential protagonist to root for. It's not a bad performance by Jarrid Geduld, really; he's got some charisma and does what Taute is asking, but this isn't a movie that can get much out of good work, and early on, it's more fun to watch Abduragman Adams's Sam and Nicole Fortuin's Angela warily circle each other. Later on, Gail Mabalane is strong enough nailing down the lawful-neutral cop on Theo's trail that it doesn't matter that she's kind of stock, and it's a shame that the filmmakers couldn't find more reasons to include Hlomla Dandala's firehouse captain. The villains are a forgettable lot.

The action isn't bad, though. There's surprisingly little fire/firefighter-specific material once the main story kicks into gear, although there is an impressively violent attack on a firehouse. The filmmakers are good getting a fair amount of bang for their buck, action-wise, not building scenes where rough visual effects are going to undercut what does work (at least until the finale with its evil subbasement that is so terribly engineered that one stray bullet can blow the whole damn thing up). Geduld and the goons he faces off against look like they have some chops as screen fighters; the film's martial arts, mainly Brazilian jiu jitsu, is fast-paced and high-impact, and for all that Geduld seems to play Theo as too abrasive, it makes the action sequence play like a natural extension of who he is during the rest of the film.

"Indemnity" isn't particularly good, but it's mostly inoffensively bad; the decent action will grab the attention of someone half-watching it via a streaming service for a moment while the weak story won't linger much past the time when that service shrinks the credits to get the viewer to move to the next thing. That sort of thing isn't going to make South Africa a popcorn-movie powerhouse, but it at least helps pique a viewer's interest when they see the faces of Geduld, Mabalane, Dandala, and a couple others on the art for a potentially better movie.

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