Actor makes "Strong" directorial debut.
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Actor Johnny Strong is probably best known for playing Leon in the first “The Fast and the Furious” flick (Bring this character back to the franchise! Almost every other character has been brought back … even the dead ones!) and posthumous Medal of Honor recipient Randy Shughart in Ridley Scott’s “Black Hawk Down.”
Strong makes his directorial debut alongside frequent collaborator William Kaufman (they previously paired for “Sinners and Saints” (good) and “Daylight’s End” (not good)) with the Afghanistan-set and Texas-shot action-thriller “Warhorse One” (available in select theaters starting Friday, June 30 and on VOD beginning Tuesday, July 4).
Strong stars as Navy SEAL Master Chief Richard Mirko – the only surviving member of his team after their chopper is shot down. They were en route to rescue the Walters family – American missionaries attempting to escape Afghanistan after the United States military evacuation of 2021. Much like Mirko, 5-year-old Zoe (Athena Durner) is the sole survivor of her clan. It’s on him to get her to the extraction point. In order to do so he’ll have to fight his way through waves of Taliban insurgents led by Radam (Raj Kala, late of “Black Adam”).
I’ve heard of filmmakers wearing lots of hats on independent productions, but Strong takes multitasking to an entirely different level by also serving as co-writer (alongside Kaufman), editor, colorist, composer, sound designer, VFX designer, special effects makeup artist, camera operator, stunt coordinator, props department member, head lighting technician and star … homie’s more like “Workhorse One.”
While Strong succeeds on many of these fronts it might’ve behooved him to farm some of this work out to other folks. The helicopter crash is a confused mess – probably the result of a limited budget as opposed to Strong’s sagging filmmaking prowess. (This could’ve also been an artistic decision as such a crash would surely be confusing.) I often had trouble hearing Durner’s dialogue and am uncertain if this is attributable to the actress’ performance or the sound mix itself. The movie is lens flare city, which looks cool but is entirely overabundant. The CG bullet hits aren’t my favorite, but are understandable in a post-“Rust” world. The biggest problem with “Warhorse One” is its bloated runtime – it would’ve played far better at an hour and a half as opposed to two hours-plus.
Where “Warhorse One” really cooks is in the relationship between Strong and Durner’s characters and the muscular action itself. Strong is convincing enacting combat and delivers his dialogue in appropriately hushed tones. Durner is an expressive little actress. The bond between Mirko and Zoe moved me to tears on more than one occasion. Kaufman can do the kinetic stuff in his sleep (he’s got two more action movies – “The Channel” and “Shrapnel” – coming out next month), but Strong seems to have an aptitude for it as well.
I didn’t respond to “Warhorse One” as deeply as I did the similarly-themed “Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant” or “Kandahar” from earlier this year, but it’s a Strong effort (pun very much intended) on a far smaller scale. Strong is currently in pre-production on a “Warhorse One” sequel (“Warhorse Two”?). I was impressed enough by the initial installment that I’d certainly consider re-enlisting.