When someone suggests that a film is miscast it suggests a poor performance, but that isn’t always the case, it may just be misleading. One such example is James McTeigue’s Survivor.
Kate Abbott works in the American Embassy in London, her job is to asses people attempting to obtain visas to travel to America and employ more stringent checks to help weed out potential terrorist suspects. There is a suggestion that she works for the CIA. She narrowly escapes a bombing that kills her team, she soon becomes the prime suspect. In the true spirit of “wrong man” movies like The 39 Steps (1935), Sabotage (1936) and North by Northwest (1959) she goes on the run to both clear her name and avert the ultimate greater crime.
The problem is that Kate Abbott is played by Milla Jovovich. Her filmography includes: Leeloo (The Fifth Element 1997), Joan of Arc (Joan of Arc1999), Alice (Resident Evil 2002 – 2016), Violet Song Jat Shariff (Ultraviolet 2006), Milady de Winter (The Three Musketeers 2011). These characters bring with them a certain baggage, this baggage combined with an all action, running, jumping and shooting trailer give a false impression of the film and the character. We would be forgiven for expecting something more akin to Angelina Jolie in Salt (2010). Survivor doesn’t have to be Salt, and could have benefited from a more honest trailer and a leading lady without action credentials.
When reviewing The Fugitive (1993) Barry Norman made the suggestion that the film would have been more interesting if Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones swapped roles. His reasoning, nobody would believe Harrison Ford could have killed his wife, this was obviously pre What Lies Beneath (2000). Had they played the other parts, there would always be a possibility that Dr. Richard Kimble may be guilty. On the Empire Podcast Helen O’Hara made a similar suggestion regarding Jurassic World (2015). Her idea Chris Pratt should have played the uptight executive and Bryce Dallas Howard the fun and heroic character. Both of these ideas are interesting.
However, there is always something to be said about playing against type. Think Tom Cruise as Vincent in Michael Mann’s Collateral (2004) or Henry Fonda as Frank in Sergio Leone’s Once Upon A Time In The West (1968), all these films were improved by the surprise of an actor playing against type.
So where does this leave Survivor? The film exists in that strange nether-region between a high quality direct to DVD/VOD movie and a run of the mill cinematic release. The star power considerably out ways the quality of the script. Pierce Brosnan and Frances de la Tour have fun with their roles but Robert Forster is wasted. Ironically it is the potential miscasting of Milla Jovovich that saves the film as she makes a likeable character. In case you are wondering, my recommendation; if you happen to see the film on the TV schedule, watch it, don’t bother paying for it!