Kate Synopsis: After being irreversibly poisoned, a ruthless criminal operative (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) has less than 24 hours to exact revenge on her enemies and, in the process, forms an unexpected bond with the daughter of one of her past victims.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead has amassed a career of consistent excellence, shinning in indie darlings (Smashed) while exhibiting herself as a poised action star (The Thing remake and Birds of Prey) along the way. Winstead’s sturdy yet overlooked presence serves as the driving force behind Netflix’s latest actioner Kate – a disposable actioner that does just enough to energize its familiar foundation.
As usual, Winstead establishes instant gravitas onscreen. As an assassin stuck in a fruitless cycle of violence, the actress presents the cold precision of a well-trained killer. She conveys the typical gruff charm of an action hero while still conveying some much-needed vulnerabilities. In the chances she gets, Winstead effectively touches on the heart of the character’s longing for connection and foreboding regret over her isolated lifestyle.
The writing presents clear limitations, yet that doesn’t stop Winstead from developing a sturdy presence to center the narrative around. Miku Patricia Martineau adds lively spunk as Kate’s unlikely friend, while Woody Harrelson fittingly modulates between smooth charm and nastiness as Kate’s parental trainer.
From an action standard, Kate delivers enough visceral pop to elevate its rudimentary setpieces. Director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan basks in the neon-soaked carnage Tokyo setting, teaming with Cinematographer Lyle Vincent to execute a whirlwind of kinetic setpieces. From heart-racing car chases to numerous close-quarter shootouts, Nicolas-Troyan showcases an assured touch with his swift movements. While the dully dilated color grading takes away some of the impacts, the setpieces present just enough creative flourishes to reinvent the familiar action movie wheel.
Kate has the bones of a strong actioner, but the script undermines the film’s fruitful nucleus. I love the concept of a hitman staring eye-to-eye with their mortality – it opens up room for self-reflection amidst the genre’s noisier tendencies. However, Umair Aleem’s screenplay is as barebones as it gets for the genre. The narrative chugs along at a stagnate clip, embracing a medley of played-out narrative tropes and thinly defined character beats (the third act twist could be predicted from a look at the poster). The flat writing damages the Asian characters the most, as they are rarely imbued with enough empathy or dimension to rise past standard-issue cliches.
Kate works as a passable enough diversion despite its uninspired narrative approach. If audiences leave with one takeaway, it’s that Mary Elizabeth Winstead should be an action star for years to come.