Three middle-aged, divorced, white men conspire to plot revenge upon their mutual enemy in an unnamed global city. While that term could apply to any other crime drama of the next decade, Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s film inverts genre expectations by showing us what it would actually look like to experience that world.
There’s Joe (Andrew Garfield), the funny-looking alpha cop who we first meet as he relives the exact moment he caught the alleged murderer of a no-good coworker, the smarty-pants tech specialist Lucas (Ashton Sanders) who professes his love of the city’s music scene and sports, and the bouncer Dave (Jonah Hauer-King), who listens to jazz in an Apple store that he calls a “punk outhouse”. After a rather brave trial, he loses his appeal and, like the policeman before him, gets a job to go along with his new being a cop.
Things, at first, are going well. Jones is cutting Cleveland’s homicide rate with his new technology, and Lucas has improved his city’s sports teams. But things go south: one night, Lucas is wronged by a homeless man he picks up, and for years he moves on with his life. But it’s not long before a pair of robbers break into his apartment and threaten to kill him unless he gives them what they want, which is the keys to all of the city’s financial secrets.
When Lucas confronts Joe about it, he tells him that they both need to find some enemies in order to be successful in this tough city, and begs him to kidnap him. David, in turn, arranges for his younger gay brother Jake (Robbie Amell) to come from Los Angeles and kidnap Lucas’s colleague. They plan to hold Lucas and one of the thieves hostage for ransom, which proceeds to sort out the big two men with their selfish, deadly ways. It’s this criminal-filled heist that proves to be the central plot device.
There’s some action, bad-to-middle-aged male stereotypes, and appeals to empathy, but what really stands out about Flee is the sheer scope of the visual language. Although the film is set in a present-day city, it looks like a film from the 1980s, a time when Moscow had just occupied Afghanistan and every major movie had been shot in the frozen wastes of Siberia. That makes sense since IJR’s cinematographer, David Rawlings, is one of the pioneers of the found-footage film style. Here, it is mostly shot with new-age digital cameras, but the final product resembles a throwback to the original Windmill on Peak’s Christopher Keating and the Goonies, right down to the climax when Lucas finds an antique coin that supposedly gives him the ultimate power of intimidation.
Rasmussen did not set out to make a movie like Flee, but it sure looks like one. It’s incredibly smart and visual, and its humor doesn’t come at the expense of others, like the broad, over-the-top world of the genre. It’s rich in drama, complications, and compassion, and it proves to be something at which to grab the attention of the whole family, if you like that sort of thing.