MAAC Review: Message Man

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Made way back in 2013, it has taken quite a while for action thriller Message Man to reach screens. Released straight to VOD with very little publicity, Message Man turns out to be an unexpected gem with only some minor drawbacks which stop it from becoming a total success.

An Australian/Indonesian co-production, Message Man focuses on the exploits of the mysterious Ryan Teller (Paul O Brien), an ex-hitman who is trying to put his violent past behind him. Like any typical movie hitman, putting the past behind you is never easy. 

After befriending a local family, it is not long until Teller finds himself having to fall back on his old skills and protect them from a gang of human traffickers, led by criminal mastermind Lee (Verdi Solaiman). Both Lee and Teller have previous history, with Lee out to settler a personal score. It is not long until Teller decides to take the fight to him, with increasingly violent results.

Message Man marks the debut of writer/director Corey Pearson. His work behind the camera marks him out as a talent to watch. Running at a tight 91 minutes, Pearson paces the film well, slowly building up to the action with the first third being used to introduce the audience first to the characters and setting. 

When the action does come, it is quick and brutal with numerous limbs removed, heads blown up and bones being broken. Only the use of dreaded CGI blood is a let-down, but this is to be expected with a low budget DTV movie these days.

Pearson’s script does have some of the clichés that come with the action genre, such as scenes only being included to show how tough our hero is. These can be forgiven and are to be expected within the genre. However, the film should be given points for not introducing any unneeded romantic subplot.

Additionally, shooting the film in Indonesia adds some production value to the feature by setting it apart from other similar action films released in the DTV market. The location photography is of high quality, with cinematographers Ronny Arnold and Neil Carvin creating rich visuals that show the best and the worst of Indonesia.

Message Man sounds as if it was a slightly troubled production, with Pearson becoming ill during shooting, even having to direct parts of the film from his hospital bed. This shows true dedication for the newcomer. He has actually found time to write and direct another feature in the length of time that it has taken Message Man to be released.  

As well as his dedication, Pearson also introduces audiences to a new action star in the shape of Paul O’Brien. O’Brien is probably best known for his role in Australian soap opera Home and Away, but nothing he has done previously would have prepared audiences for his performance in Message Man

His character of Teller is more a man of action than words, and Message Man gives O’Brien ample opportunity for this. Although there is the odd gunfight, the majority of the action O’Brien gets involved in is more of the hand to hand variety with him especially favouring knives. I lost count of the amount of times he stabbed someone. The only problem with Teller is that he appears to be unstoppable. At no point during the running time does it feel like he would not succeed with his mission.  

It would appear that Australian soap operas are a good breeding ground for talent, with the likes of Hollywood stars Guy Pearce, Chris Hemsworth and Margot Robbie all starting out their careers there. The only drawback for O’Brien is that Message Man has taken so long to secure distribution, robbing him of the momentum the release could have brought to his career. 

The supporting cast is made up of a number of local Indonesian actors. Most put in decent performances, with the standouts being Verdi Solaiman, who is suitably slimy as main villain Lee and Mike Lewis, who shows up late in the film as a sniper who helps Teller on his mission. 

Lewis gets to show off some of his own fighting skills during the finale, making you wish he had more screen time. Audiences will hopefully see more of the actor with the upcoming Foxtrot Six (2019), which has him sharing the screen with Message Man co-star Verdi Solaiman. In addition to appearing in front of the camera, Lewis was also one of Message Man’s executive producers.

Of the remaining cast members, Agni Pratistha as Jenti is the only real female role of note, and even then she does not get a great deal to do, with her and her son Doni (Aji Santosa) mainly being the catalyst for Teller to return to action. 

Some viewers may unfairly compare Message Man to The Raid (2011) due to them both being Indonesian productions. Of course Message Man could never compete with that action classic, but neither could some big budget action movies for that matter. For an unheralded VOD release, Message Man should not be missed and should tick all the right boxes for action fans. 

Plot: 3.5/5
Acting: 3.5/5
Action: 3.5/5
Overall: 3.5/5

Written by Guest Reviewer: Darren Murray (Facebook Profile)

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