Dead drops, black ops and a rogue CIA agent on the run from murderously inclined former colleagues: The Expatriate certainly sounds like any number of recent espionage thrillers.
Yet Aaron Eckhart’s fugitive spy isn’t quite another Jason Bourne. He’s saddled with his stroppy teenage daughter, for a start, and she has no inkling of dad’s profession until the bullets start flying…
When the film opens, Eckhart’s expat American Ben Logan is trying to build a new life in Antwerp with estranged daughter Amy (Liana Liberato) following the death of his ex-wife. He’s testing security systems for an offshoot of a US company and struggling to build a rapport with the understandably prickly Amy when he turns up at the office one morning to find it stripped of all signs of activity.
Further surprises quickly follow. Abduction at gunpoint; colleagues’ bodies in the morgue; false identities everywhere Ben looks. It turns out that he’s been tricked into working for a shell company and unwittingly aiding a murky international conspiracy.
But if Ben is taken aback, Amy is even more stunned when dad suddenly reveals all manner of unexpected skills. What kind of father can kill an assailant with his bare hands, speak umpteen languages and unravel a murky international conspiracy? Amy’s dad, that’s who. ‘I don’t even know who you are,’ she wails after yet another brush with death.
We, however, have seen his type before – the ex-agent, decommissioned after he grew a conscience but reluctantly thrust back into the spy game. When it comes to the cloak-and-dagger stuff, The Expatriate isn’t particularly original and its action can’t match the kinetic excitement of the Bourne films. At times, indeed, the pace and mood seem closer to 1970s conspiracy thrillers than today’s ramped up version of the genre.
But the father-daughter element – more credible here than in the recent Taken sequel – gives the film an interesting edge. Eckhart is un-showy but solid in the lead, while Liberato swings convincingly between sulky and sensible (terrific as the teenager groomed by an online predator in 2010’s Trust, she’s clearly an actress to watch).
Former Bond girl Olga Kurylenko is largely wasted in an underwritten supporting role as Ben’s former CIA handler and Arash Amel’s screenplay is a tad clunky in places. But Amel, writer of the forthcoming Grace of Monaco biopic, does supply the odd crisply cynical exchange. My favourite comes when a CIA officer is describing a ruthless corporation’s efforts to destabilise foreign countries for its own economic gain and, without missing a beat, deadpans, ‘Naturally, the White House thinks it’s our job to destabilise countries.’