Amazon Prime, Chris Pratt, gaslighting, Hollywood, Jack Carr, John Wick, Navy SEALS, Pilatus PC-12, production values, The Terminal List, Top Gun Maverick, woke
Many previously prosperous film franchises, such as Star Wars and the Marvel Universe—don’t get me started on Black Widow, The Eternals and Shang Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings (Even Michelle Yeoh couldn’t help that minor disaster)—have cratered because they’ve gone woke. On the other hand, movies like Top Gun Maverick, and the John Wick series have prospered because they focus on entertaining as wide an audience as possible. Not only that, they don’t condescend to teach Deplorables how to be like the self-imagined elite, or at least try to shame them for not being morally and intellectually enlightened.
One such is the Amazon production of former Navy SEAL Jack Carr’s The Terminal List. The 8-part limited series on Prime is based on the book of the same name, which is part—to date–of a five book series:
All are currently available at Amazon at 50% off. The Prime series is based entirely on the first book of the series.
Chris Pratt: Navy SEAL James Reece
Riley Keough: Lauren Reece (James’ wife)
Arlo Mertz: Lucy Reece (James’ daughter)
Taylor Kitsch: Ben Edwards (former SEAL and James’ ally)
Constance Wu: Katie Buranek (reporter and James’ ally)
Jeanne Tripplehorn: Secretary of Defense Hartley
Tyner Rushing: Liz Riley
The Terminal List is a revenge film. All revenge films follow this general plot outline: the hero is terribly wronged, the justice system isn’t adequate, is corrupt or both, and only he can right the wrong. Usually the hero is a peaceful man who acts only under the most outrageous provocation, and when he does, the audience is satisfied, because they know how, and how often, justice can be denied.
Most revenge films—and books–are poorly done. Good writing is a rare thing. Were that not so, everyone would be a prosperous writer. Jack Carr has done well with his series because not only is he a good writer, he sticks with the writer’s admonition to write what one knows. His books are fast paced, exciting and ring true, not only in tactical and equipment details, but in the motivation and psychology of his characters. No doubt, Carr has known these people, or at least their type.
Missing from the books, and the film series, are the kinds of tactical and equipment errors so common in Hollywood. There are no revolvers with “silencers” that make not a sound. There are no fully automatic semiautos, and no stupid, gangster-like handling of firearms. Carr not only knows the correct terminology and tactics, he convincingly portrays them. Chris Pratt too has explained his determination to get the details right, and it shows.
First, the plot. The books have been in print for some time, and the series has been on for some time, so I trust no one will need to retire to a fainting couch after reading the next few paragraphs.
SEAL Commander Reece leads his team into an ambush on a raid in Syria, and he’s the sole survivor. He got his bell rung hard, and is having brain issues, and pretty much everyone, including his commanders, are gaslighting him.
He knows something is wrong—there was a massive intelligence failure—but no one seems concerned about that. Because he was supposed to die in Syria, the conspirators have to kill him, and everyone who might know about the ambush and its cause, ASAP. The first assassination attempt on him fails, but the killers succeed in murdered his wife and young daughter. That’s the outrageous, final provocation.
The rest of the series consists of Reece identifying, and killing—often in inventive and bloody ways–everyone who killed his men and his family. In this, he is assisted by Ben, and eventually, Katie, an honest journalist(?!), who comes to realize he’s innocent. Oh yes, and the ambush was caused by a cabal of corrupt corporations and politicians and the military who secretly used an experimental drug on Reece’s team, inadvertently giving them all brain tumors. That’s part of the downfall of the film series.
The films reasonably closely follow the book, but there are substantial differences that do not help the film series. This is not unusual. Telling a story in writing is very different from doing it on film. Not many movies are as good as the books on which they are based, and so it is here.
The biggest problem with the films is the obsessive focus on Reece’s brain tumor and its effects. There are six separate directors, each handling at least one episode. Take this link to IMDb for their names. There were also nine screenwriters involved. most writing a single episode. Carr is listed, but I assume he was an advisor rather than a screenwriter. All of them allowed themselves to be muddled in endless, navel-gazing, emotion-wrought flashbacks of Reece and his wife and daughter. It’s almost like all agreed: hey, he’s got a brain tumor! We can use that to show all kinds of sopping wet internal conflict! It’ll be really dramatic and stuff! We can do flashbacks! It’ll be really cool!
By the second episode I was screaming at the TV: I get it! He has a brain tumor! He loved his wife and daughter! Get on with it!
So frequent are the maudlin flashbacks the viewer is denied what could be far more enlightening insight into the detective/intelligence work Reece must perform, the relationships between the characters, and the well-done action sequences. By the way, in the books, the tumor turns out to be benign, is removed, and Reece moves on to other adventures.
The acting is generally well done. Pratt well portrays a SEAL out for vengeance, except when he’s forced to flashback, or display doubt about what he’s doing. Pratt also takes care to display two sides of Reece: a kind, gentle family man, and the single-minded SEAL killer. This is a common movie cliché, but is the reality of the modern warrior, despite the stereotype of the emotionally warped combat veteran. During my police days—and no, I’m not comparing the police experience to that of SEALS—Mrs. Manor would often say she could not imagine me being violent, yet when it was required, I had no difficulty producing the appropriate amount of violence. This dichotomy is often overlooked in film, not only because Hollywood doesn’t much like or understand such people, but because they think portraying our military members as brain damaged psychotics is somehow noble and dramatic.
One area the film managed well is at least superficially displaying the brotherhood of the SEALS, which is also one of Reece’s major motivations. Helping illustrate that brotherhood is Taylor Kitsch, who is now apparently a CIA operative, but adheres to the brotherhood. Part of what makes the movie work is betrayal of the brotherhood by higher-ranking SEAL commanders who sold out Reece and his men. Constance Wu as Katie Buranek stands out as an honest journalist. Later in the book series, she and Reece become emotionally involved, but there’s no time for that in the film series. Riley Keough and Arlo Metz competently play Reece’s wife and daughter, and they never entirely go away, which is part of the problem.
Tyner Rushing plays Liz Riley, an Army pilot—probably in helicopters—who owes Reece her life after he rescued her from a tight spot in a war zone. She is now a corporate pilot who ferries him around the world, in what appears to be a Pilatus PC-12, as necessary. There’s an undercurrent of attraction between them, but again, there’s no time to develop it. Jeanne Tripplehorn plays the Secretary of Defense, who initially appears to be a good guy, but turns out to be among the worst of the bad guys.
The production values of the films are first rate. Among the things that drive me crazy about many contemporary films is the soundtrack all too often is inappropriate to the action, or is so loud it drowns out the dialogue. That is fortunately not the issue here. Props, particularly where firearms and other military gear are concerned, are accurate. The dialogue is appropriate to the circumstances and is not, as is so common, jarringly wrong for the characters.
By all means, buy and read the book series. By some means, view the film series. It might be best to view the films first. They’re not bad, certainly not by the standards of contemporary TV series, but they’re not up to the quality of the books. I watched the film series twice to see what, if anything, I missed the first time. I realized one could lose pretty much all of the flashback content and still have a coherent series.
Again, the film series is worth viewing–they’re definitely not woke–but the books, which are absolutely not woke, are far, far better.
Hey Mike. I’m through episode 7. I agree with you, too many flash backs. I just started skipping through those. It saves time and keeps the story moving. Otherwise, I’m enjoying it. Thanks for the links to the books. You’ve been doing a great job keeping my reading library full of good stuff to read. I’m on the 5th Monster Hunter book.
Mike McDaniel said:
Thanks! I’m looking forward to the next installment in the Monster Hunter series.