[Fantasia 2021 Review] South Africa’s INDEMNITY packages on-the-run thrills with conspiracy paranoia

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Travis Leamons // Film Critic

INDEMNITY

Rated R, 124 minutes.
Director: Travis Taute
Cast: Jarrid Geduld, Nicole Fortuin, Andre Jacobs, and Gail Mabalane

Theo Abrams (Jarrid Geduld) is angry. Suffering from post-traumatic stress and being pushed to the sidelines of his profession as a firefighter, Theo is a man sunken to alcoholism as a release for a past mistake. He blames himself for a fire and rescue mission gone wrong. The deaths of colleagues haunt him daily, his dreams soaking up the sequence of events like a rag dropped into kerosene before ignited. Cold sweats, physical outbursts, and rage are lingering reminders.

Now Theo finds himself wanted by all the cops in Cape Town and a pack of mercenaries. The police want him for a murder committed. The mercenaries operate at the discretion of an organization that has found Theo to be a liability.

Travis Taute, in his feature debut in the director’s chair, delivers an on-the-run thriller inspired by a number of different sources. He calls his film INDEMNITY a “love letter” to the American genre films of the ‘90s and early ‘00s—the type of films driven by characters and not spectacle, and with a tinge of social commentary. Our tale is a hero on the run seeking deliverance in the wake of a debilitating trauma. Taute uses action and incendiary effects sequences to liven the narrative’s message of dealing with and treating mental health. The connective tissue does suspend disbelief at times; the plot becomes something in the realm of THE FUGITIVE if Dr. Richard Kimble was a firefighter who could fight and allude capture like Jason Bourne.

Waking up to find his wife, Angela (Nicole Fortuin), motionless beside him, Theo’s mind races. He attempts CPR, but it’s useless. She’s gone. Trying to piece together what happened during the night is also pointless. Theo’s brain and recognition were already fragile. Now with his wife dead and the police identifying him as the prime suspect, Theo becomes a man on edge out to find answers. Theo doesn’t know that Angela intercepted a phone call meant for him, alerting her that her husband might be in danger. Theo is on a list where the names on it have either been incarcerated or liquidated.

INDEMNITY may dangle all the familiar tropes, but the troubles Theo’s faces are at least handled with a matter of depth. Frustrated, angry, and traumatized, yes, but Theo was a family man who was an active participant as a husband and as a father until recently. While Taute doesn’t go beyond the surface level in exploring Theo or Angela, Geduld maintains a strong presence as a man of action, going as far as performing a majority of his own stunts. One highlight is him dangling outside a hotel window, holding onto a curtain as if he were John McClane trying to make his way down an elevator shaft at Nakatomi Plaza.

Unfortunately, too much exposition and talking points visually kneecap the audience in deciphering the mystery along with Theo. These exchanges are lengthy and often fail to bring up startling information. It’s when Theo is in action mode, and the mystery moves to thriller territory, where INDEMNITY works best. Why force-feed dialogue when a stab wound is more on the point in obtaining viable information?

Zenn Van Zyl’s camerawork and Taute’s direction in tight spaces is nicely executed and sustain interest. The visuals aren’t a problem, but the sound is. The musical score, particularly a climactic scene where Theo comes face to face with one of the persons complicit in his current circumstances, is so awkward and overpowering. The edict of less is more should have been applied here as well as in total running time. A tighter narrative would have created a more engaging genre story. Because of Taute’s adherence to the plot’s conspiratorial tone with the emotional weight of PTSD and a police procedural on top of it all, INDEMNITY doesn’t fully exonerate itself.

Grade: B-

INDEMNITY is currently playing at the Fantasia International Film Festival (in person and online from August 5 – August 25). 

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