Director Hicham Hajji’s Redemption Day is a story of war, PTSD, and the oil lobby colliding and threatening to turn the lives of decorated Marine Captain Brad Paxton (Gary Dourdan) and his wife Kate (Serinda Swan) upside-down. In light of his impactful choices, it is surprising to note that Redemption Day is Hajji’s first feature length directing credit. His experience producing works, especially in his homeland of Morocco where much of Redemption Day is set, is no surprise. In this film, the ugly realities of what we often label the American ideals of freedom follow Brad home in the form of nightmares and flashbacks, and the Paxtons are forced to face more true costs of war when Kate is abducted by an Algerian terrorist cell during an archaeological dig at the Moroccan border. Brad soon learns that even as an expert, not all is as it appears to be in the worlds of international relations, politics, and warfare.
The film effectively establishes the vivid traumas of war, flashing between the past and the present; war and life at home afterwards. Redemption Day opens on facts and figures regarding the central role of the oil industry on war and international commerce. When we meet Brad Paxton (Dourdan), he is in the thick of active duty. We soon realize Paxton is in fact already at home in bed, as he wakes from the seemingly recurring nightmare of the violent scene from his prior deployment. The jarring nature of the switches between past and present, and surprisingly quick cuts are apt directorial choices, capturing the disorientation and immediacy of PTSD. Hajji’s directing flattens out Brad’s timeline in a good way, blurring the sharp lines of past and present in a reflection of how immediate Brad’s past still is for him.
Gary Dourdan’s performance as Brad Paxton is a convincing complement to the strong directing. Dourdan portrays a man clearly struggling to reconcile with his past, and a man who does not feel like he has fully come home. When he is called back into duty by his wife Kate’s peril, we see his determination to save her mixed with dread and apprehension at the task ahead. Dourdan’s acting coaxes the viewer to feel sympathy for his challenges, allowing us to feel that we know him, that his trauma is vivid and vital, and that we need to see him complete his mission safely. It is easy to develop a vested interest in his character and the love Brad and Kate share.
Not a straightforward action movie or war movie, Redemption Day treads the line between the two. There is no shortage of suspense and action in Brad Paxton’s mission, and the interspersed war scenes add depth and motivation to the film. Viewers may be confused by the dynamics between certain insurgents, politicians, ambassadors, and civilians throughout the exposition. It is not immediately clear who the “good” and “bad” guys are or what the focus of the film will be, and the added layer of the oil industry’s involvement further blurs those lines. It is unclear where the corruption lies, and which side certain influential players are really on. While this lack of clarity can inhibit early investment and immersion in the film, it proves worthwhile when the game of chess these conflicting powers are playing ultimately comes into focus.
The thread that runs through the film is ultimately that of Brad and Kate’s love for each other. A convincing relationship, it also serves the purpose of tying the different timelines and narratives together. Their relationship grounds the motivation for the film, is believable, and is never extraneous or over the top. The importance of the two to each other, and to the narrative arc of the film, is well crafted by writers Sam Chouia and Hicham Hajji.
Overall, Redemption Day is a solid film, and delivers action, drama, and wartime suspense from an interesting angle. The film is enjoyable yet uncomfortable, suspenseful and satisfying. Find Redemption Day in theaters on January 8, and digital and on demand on January 12.