Land Of Bad review | War is stylish as hell

land of bad russell crowe

Russell Crowe and Liam Hemsworth star in a slickly directed and surprisingly funny survival war saga. Our review of Land Of Bad:

A bloody, gung-ho survival thriller that reads like a hybrid of Peter Berg’s Lone Survivor and Andrew Niccol’s Good Kill, Land Of Bad sticks to a familiar war film template, but is served up with enough stylistic verve and off-beat humour by director and co-writer William Eubank to feel fresh.

Land Of Bad’s twin-strand plot takes in Russell Crowe as drone operator Captain Grimm ‘Reaper’, whose perspective on combat is from an air-conditioned US air base outside Las Vegas. On his monitor he watches a quartet of Delta Force soldiers, despatched to a jungle in the Philippines on a top-secret rescue mission.

Among the boots on the ground you’ll find Liam Hemsworth as the fresh-faced JTAC (Joint Terminal Attack Controller) operator Sergeant Kinney, and Milo Ventimiglia, Ricky Whittle and Luke Hemsworth as his more seasoned compatriots. (Fortunately for Eubank, Luke Hemsworth looks sufficiently unrelated to his brother Liam to cause any distraction, given the characters they play don’t initially know each other.)

Inevitably, an already tricky mission goes awry, and the four soldiers soon find that all their advanced military hardware is little match for an entire army of Jihadist militants. As Whittle’s character notes, despite the west’s attempts to sanitise combat through the use of drones – killing people from a computer screen rather than face to face – war is as brutal and ugly as it was a thousand years ago.

With resources running low, the soldiers are forced to trek through the jungle in search of an evacuation point, with Reaper and his drone providing support from above. That in takes several precious, agonising seconds for Reaper to trigger an air strike, and that his drone only carries a handful of missiles, is something Land Of Bad repeatedly mines for suspense.

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Eubank, who built a space station in his parents’ garden in order to make his phantasmagorical low-budget sci-fi debut, Love, directs his action set-pieces with creative brio. Gigantic explosions and sprays of debris are captured in glorious slow-motion; bullets send victims flying backwards like a balloon with the air suddenly let out. The result is like a blend of Sam Peckinpah grittiness and Neill Blomkamp digital clarity.

Land Of Bad’s real surprise, though, is that it’s far less self-serious than most other war films of its type. The mayhem in the Philippines is intercut with more mundane goings-on at the base in Nevada, where Crowe’s captivatingly gruff Reaper – seemingly channelling the spirit of The Big Lebowski’s Walter Sobchak – frets about his fourth wife, who’s about to go into labour, and chats to his colleague, Nia (Chika Ikogwe), about her imminent wedding. There are also sundry rants about coffee pods, basketball and veganism, which, to Eubank’s credit, add to the film’s character without undercutting its tension.

Eubank and editor Todd E Miller even get away with cutting between a pretty intense moment of peril and scenes of Crowe, clad in a Hawaiian shirt, shopping for cheese in a local supermarket. It’s a tonal balancing act that they just about succeed in pulling off.

Land Of Bad was initially dreamed up – with co-writer David Frigerio – when Eubank was making his underrated sci-fi film The Signal in 2014. In a way, it shows – Land Of Bad feels like a movie from a 2010s era when hyper-masculine opuses like American Sniper, 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers Of Benghazi and 12 Strong were a more common sight in cinemas. (Land Of Bad’s closest analogue is Guy Ritchie’s forgettable The Covenant from 2023, whose box office fate suggests these sorts of films aren’t quite as fashionable as they once were.)

Formulaic and even slightly quaint though it is, Land Of Bad is powered by some eye-catching direction from Eubank and the sheer commitment of its actors, whether it’s Crowe evidently having a whale of a time as an avuncular drone pilot or Liam Hemsworth, who really throws himself into all the bloody, war-is-hell stuff the plot has in store for him. It’s a good job he packed a clean pair of underpants.

Land Of Bad will stream on Amazon Prime Video from the 26th April.

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