6 Days Dir: Toa Fraser

A Kiwi take on one of Britain’s most iconic events of the 20th century, this action-thriller starring Jamie Bell is a gripping account of the real-life siege.

In April 1980 gunmen stormed the Iranian Embassy in London and took those inside hostage. Over the next six days a tense standoff ensued and while police, army and government debated a highly trained SAS force was ready to raid.

2017 sees the dream team of director Toa Fraser (The Dead Lands) and producer Mathew Metcalfe in peak form, not only bringing this incredible account to the big screen but also delivering a much different movie to the NZIFF in the jaw-dropping extreme-sports rumination The Free Man.

I’d been up since 3:30am for work and with the movie starting late I was worried I might nod off – but I needn’t have worried – this tensely coiled and finely tuned thriller had my heart in my mouth for the majority of its taut 94 minutes.

You’ve barely finished your ice cream when Fraser puts on a filmmaking master class in the first incredibly tense negotiation. With no score, Mark Strong’s dulcet tones ring out while the gum-chewing Jamie Bell and his armed-to-the-teeth team teeter at the door. It sets the tone, never relying on slick camera moves and frenetic editing to raise the stakes.

And full credit to editors John Gilbert (Oscar-winner for The Lord of the Rings) and Dan Kircher (The Dead Lands), who cut 6 Days to within an inch of its life. The last 20 minutes as the SAS run rampant is a white-knuckle ride

I was barely seven months old when all this went down, and I went in vaguely knowing of the event but not it’s outcome, which made for an all-the-more-thrilling watch. I’m always weary of movies ‘based on true events’, but opening the NZ premiere Metcalfe said he’d wanted to change that text to ‘the following is a true story’, as they’d strived to honour those involved by telling the truth.

Boy does the film ring true. From the sideline journalistic banter, constant cigarette haze, the meticulous prop department to the judicious use of archival footage, without any jarring 80’s music or brands. It’s almost timeless, if it wasn’t for the mutton-chopped snooker players that provide some of the tension-breaking laughs.

The casting is spot-on, no big-name attention grabbers seeking award glory, they’re all their to do the story and the real people involved justice. Mark Strong as chief negotiator Max Vernon does captivating work talking down a phone, Jamie Bell shows the strain and strength of newly minted SAS trooper Rusty Firmin and Abbie Cornish does BBC journalist Kate Adie proud.

But it’s British-Iranian TV actor Ben Turner (Casualty) who shines, bringing the humanity as the gunmen’s leader Salim, and highlights Fraser’s skill at not making easy-to-hate villains.

Fraser also enlists some familiar Kiwi faces with the likes of Toby Leach as cop hero Trevor Lock, The Dead Land’s Te Kohe Tuhaka, The Almighty Johnson’s Jared Turner and Colin Moy.

Set against Thatcher’s iron rule, this is a moral struggle with no clear heroes or villains. But what is crystal is a Kiwi director showcasing his skills in a world-class action-thriller, that doesn’t sacrifice the truth for blockbuster thrills.

Clayton Barnett

NZIFF link: https://www.nziff.co.nz/2017/auckland/6-days/