'Legacy'

A schematic psychological thriller both driven and somewhat overwhelmed by Idris Elba's performance.

Advertised with the line “One man. One room. One mission,” “Legacy” is heavy on the first two, the mission in question being relegated to flashbacks. The sophomore feature of British-Nigerian writer-helmer Thomas Ikimi (“Limbo”), this tale of an American black-ops soldier unraveling after a harrowing assignment alleviates its physical confinement — conceived to accommodate a tiny budget before headliner Idris Elba signed on — via energetic direction and editing. Still, staginess clings to a very schematic psychological thriller both driven and somewhat overwhelmed by Elba’s showy performance. Released in nine cities Oct. 15, offbeat but middling effort will fare better on ancillary.

Part of a top-secret “Dark Hammer” anti-terrorist unit, Malcolm Gray (Elba) is captured and tortured while staking out an arms dealer in Eastern Europe. He’s now returned, covered with gruesome scars, to his native Brooklyn. There, he holes up in an atmospherically dingy hotel room, dwelling on those recent traumas as well as the high-flying Republican senator brother (Eamonn Walker) he blames for policies that permitted the ethically dubious and violent actions he variously witnessed, executed and suffered. As TV reports inform us, Malcolm’s brother may soon parlay his “war on terror” rhetoric into presidential candidacy.

Malcolm is meant to be hiding out, yet people keep showing up. They include the love his sibling allegedly stole from him (Monique Gabriela Curnen), his former commander (Clarke Peters) and a journalist (Lara Pulver) to whom he promises secrets that could destroy his brother’s career. But before long, we begin to wonder whether these visits are real or paranoid delusions, as Malcolm grows more and more unstable.

It’s easy to see why an actor might be excited by such material, and Elba (“Obsessed,” TV’s “The Wire”), who signed on as executive producer, gives it his all. Maybe too much, in fact. There’s nary a scene in which Malcolm isn’t at full-throttle intensity, whether on the attack, terrified, muttering crazily, in physical extremis, et al. It’s the kind of performance that can reduce everything around it to mere vehicle for acting tour de force, and “Legacy’s” gimmicky scenario doesn’t put up much of a fight. Ikimi’s murky political message seems secondary in importance to his focus on letting this committed but also self-conscious star turn leave no scenery unchewed.

Shot for funding reasons in Scotland, pic is well handled in tech and design departments, with Mark Kilian’s big suspenser score useful in maintaining some sense of danger beyond sheer thespian display.

Legacy

Nigeria-U.K.

Production

A Codeblack Entertainment (in U.S.) release presented in association with Kaleidoscope Prods. of a Black Camel Pictures/Legacy Spy production. Produced by Arabella Page Croft, Kieran Parker, Thomas Ikimi. Executive producers, Idris Elba, Amrit Walia. Directed, written by Thomas Ikimi.

Crew

Camera (color, HD-to-35mm), Jonathan Harvey; editors, Ikimi, Richard Graham; music, Mark Kilian; production designer, Gordon Rogers; art director, Andy Drummond; costume designer, Harriet Edmonds; sound, Alastair Mason; supervising sound editor/re-recording mixer, Kahl Henderson; sound designer, Giles Lamb; assistant director, Jonathan Farmer; casting, Anna Kennedy. Reviewed on DVD, San Francisco, Oct. 15, 2010. (In Chicago Film Festival.) MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 93 MIN.

With

Idris Elba, Eamonn Walker, Monique Gabriela Curnen, Clarke Peters, Richard Brake, Julian Wadham, Gerald Kyd, Lara Pulver. (English dialogue)

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