Film Review: Netflix’s ‘Kate’

Every minute counts in Kate, an action thriller where an assassin is on a time crunch to find out who poisoned her.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead is a long way from Fargo in Kate. By now, you’ve seen the glossy, neon-lit trailer for the Netflix film that pits a seasoned contract killer against a steady stream of adversaries. It’s bloody, frenzied, and a whole lot predictable.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead in 'Kate' on Netflix
Mary Elizabeth Winstead in ‘Kate’ | Jasin Boland/Netflix

Kate takes on the Japanese yakuza

Killer Kate is a no-nonsense executioner who’s highly trained and in demand in Japan. That’s where her story unfolds when she’s poisoned by someone who may or may not have an agenda. She soon learns she only has 24 hours to live and chooses to spend that time tracking down who ordered the fatal hit. Her retirement dreams quickly go up in smoke.

What’s more is that Kate loudly slips into Tokyo’s yakuza underworld, and multiple Kill Bill: Vol. 1 Crazy 88 sequences commence throughout the entire movie. The body count increases as Kate inches closer to solving the mystery, but it takes about 20 minutes for story’s pace to pick up. She’s tough, sick, and hellbent on finding the baddie, but Kate finds a soft spot with a teen girl named Ani whom she kidnaps and befriends.

Right away, viewers will instantly — and inevitably — draw comparisons to assassin flicks of the past thanks to the film’s premise and cinematography. While John Wick immediately comes to mind, so does Netflix’s femme fatale offering Gunpowder Milkshake and Jason Statham’s Crank. Remember how Statham’s hitman Chev Chelios was poisoned and had to maintain high levels of adrenaline to survive? It’s similar to that scenario.

Woody Harrelson plays Kate’s handler

Beloved actor Woody Harrelson is Varrick, Kate’s father figure/handler and the person who trained her in the game. Though he doesn’t appear in every scene, he reemerges here and there. Harrelson’s character doesn’t feel particularly intimidating or like an assassin’s boss. Maybe that’s the point?

On the other hand, Winstead’s action star pedigree is evident as she keeps the emotion on a very, very low simmer while slaying doomed yakuza henchmen. Not even boyfriends are safe. The problem is Kate is a woman who wants answers but doesn’t seem too interested in receiving them. However, she is interested spilling blood?

All the while, Miku Martineau’s Ani witnesses so much slaughter that it’s a wonder she still hangs out with Kate. It feels unbelievable that she’s so cool about everything.

Stylistically, ‘Kate’ draws from cyberpunk and anime

Director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan stated that he purposely chose neon pink to represent badassery and attitude and turquoise to counter that energy. The resulting visuals give the film an anime rock-pop feel (like Drive) amid dark themes and the dark, metaphorical stage where everything plays out.

Winstead’s Kate has a cool car chase, lays waste to hundreds of Japanese fighters, and finally faces her assailant. But by the time you reach the end, you’ll feel like you’ve seen this movie before, and it’s because you have — many times. Kate drops on Netflix on Sept. 10.

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