6 Days: Toa Fraser's film just doesn't quite deliver the thrills
6 Days (RP13)
95 mins ★★★½
6 Days depicts the real-life terror of 1980s terrorism, when the Iranian Embassy in London was stormed and 22 people taken hostage in April, 1980.
In its opening moments, the film makes one wistful for a time when red-and-white head-dressed Arab men could walk the streets of London without remark. But events rapidly turn sinister (as in Argo, Munich and other more exciting renditions) and what ensues is a faithful, unflashy recount of a week in which then PM Margaret Thatcher made sure the whole world knew that Britain would not negotiate with terrorists.
Despite present day perils, it feels like a bygone age in many ways, but the story itself should be as enthralling as any crime drama which unfolds into uncertainty under the Sword of Damocles. Yet, despite ostensibly doing everything "right", for most of its run-time the film doesn't quite manage to deliver the thrills.
* 6 Days: Kiwi-shot thriller receiving lukewarm reception from US critics
* Kiwi-shot and set movies headed for the big screen in 2017
* Toa Fraser and Jossi Wells team up for a extreme sport film
Kiwi director Toa Fraser has certainly followed a varied career path, reminiscent in its eclecticism of Michael Winterbottom. His debut No. 2 screened at film festivals worldwide and charmed audiences with its depiction of a Fijian matriarch's succession planning. This provided the launchpad for a distinctly British bit of oddball, Dean Spanley, before he leapt into the arena of dramatized ballet with Giselle.
But local audiences really raved about the innovation and panache of The Dead Lands, a groundbreaking, Māori language, martial-arts movie set in pre-colonial New Zealand. And now he is steering a real-life British hostage drama, peopled with stalwarts of their local acting scene (Jamie Bell, Tim Pigott-Smith, Mark Strong) and familiar Kiwi faces (Matt Sunderland, Colin Moy, and a host of recognisable extras with no lines).
Credit where it's due, Fraser clearly knows how to make a genre movie, and you really can't fault the acting, cinematography or the Sicario-inspired drone as the soundtrack heralds moments of tension. We see the hostage situation from several points of view, with the police and armed forces' command just doors down from the Embassy, and (now famous) news reporter Kate Adie at the front gate, rooted to her spot for the duration and ultimately providing a pertinent narration of events.
While some may feel the Adie plotline seems tacked on, her part in the siege's reporting has gone down in history, and even if Abbie Cornish's impersonation feels irritatingly mannered at times, Fraser would have been in greater trouble if he'd cut the one female character out of the picture entirely.
The period is nicely captured through dim lighting, décor and the omnipresent moustaches on the SAS team, who are itching to get in on the action. It's the scenes where the hired guns perform dummy runs through sack-clothed walls and practise their craft that provide the highest levels of excitement.
But until the final act, 6 Days is mostly just informative and well-executed, but lacking the requisite exhilaration that such life-and-death situations usually deliver.