With 24 hours left to live, a highly-trained assassin seeks to solve and avenge her own murder. That’s the action-packed premise Mary Elizabeth Winstead takes on in Netflix’s Kate — a so-so thriller made immeasurably better by the fearless star’s do-or-die performance.
Set against the backdrop of neon-drenched Tokyo nightlife, this hyper-condensed whodunnit kicks off with the titular hitwoman discovering she’s been poisoned. Polonium-204, a doctor explains, is responsible for Kate’s sudden headaches and vomiting. But these are just the first symptoms of acute radiation syndrome, the brutal condition that will put Kate in agonizing pain as her body rapidly deteriorates in a day or less.
Over the next 1 hour and 46 minutes of screentime, Kate methodically hunts for her killer among a group of Yakuza she suspects are responsible for dosing her with the toxin. Winsetad’s remarkably stoic performance matches the cool detachment of her character’s approach to certain death, and lays the ground for one stark revenge arc. From the moment Kate starts yanking rotted, bloody teeth from her head in a dirty public restroom, Winstead makes it clear: She’s playing a spectacularly screwed dead woman walking, not the face of a new multi-film franchise.
Go get ’em.
Credit: Jasin Boland/NETFLIX
That grim premise and the remarkably stagnant tone with which it is explored make for a surprisingly weak narrative. Kate’s rushing through the streets, although bloody and badass, fails to achieve an organic pace — playing more like a clunky collection than serpentine sequence. Why she’s chosen vengeance and not to either (a) stay at the hospital where she can pass in peace, or (b) pull up a stool at the nearest bar and get drunk is never made clear. She’s neither motivated enough nor ridiculous enough to make her quest for comeuppance feel like a reasonable effort to undertake. It’s justified sure, just not compelling.
Ostensibly in an effort to fix that, the niece of a powerful Yakuza leader named Ani, played by Miku Martineau, is forced into the adventure as a conduit for musings on loss of innocence and family betrayal. It could work. And yet, not only have you seen this multi-generational tale of trauma before, but it comes off as seriously cloying in this context. Think Hanna (2011), but worse — at no fault of Martineau’s. It’s simply not written well, with the duo’s dynamic shifting inexplicably from scene to scene and, in some rougher moments, from line to line.
Yeah, seems like ya got ’em.
Credit: Jasin Boland/NETFLIX
The final acts are overwrought with exposition. The dialogue isn’t compelling. Even Kate’s well-placed sparks of dark comedy, including a Zombieland Twinkies-style quest for a soda called “Boom Boom Lemon,” feel bloated as the story drags on. Still, I can’t help but recommend this movie to those who love its star.
Winstead without question leaves it all on screen for this project, delivering gritty fight and chase sequences that will have your eyes fixed on her for every frame. Precise punches paired with frenetic-but-not-frantic looks make her approach to action stardom work like a Huntress-John Wick hybrid. Winstead makes Kate infinitely more interesting by nailing slick choreography without sacrificing the facial expressions needed to sell her thought process.
Of course, we’ve seen her do that in past films. But the titular role of Kate gives us an exciting glimpse into what the effervescent actor could do with a better movie. She’s got the tenacity and talent to carry a title this dark and this gruesome. She just couldn’t get this one up to her level.