Fairly or not, Hayden Christensen has lived much of his professional life in the shadows of his ill-fated appearances in the Star Wars universe that resulted in the actor's four Razzie nominations and two wins for Worst Supporting Actor in both Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. The Star Wars universe, much like the Marvel universe, is a particularly unforgiving one and in the eyes of many Star Wars fans Christensen's performance was perhaps even more unforgivable than even that godawful Jar-Jar Binks distraction.
But, if we're being honest, the whole "Christensen as bad actor" thing has always been a bit overstated and despite publicity that would have sent many actors running back home to work in the local coffeeshop Christensen has built himself a solid motion picture career that has included one Golden Globe nomination (Life as a House), the Chopard Trophy at Cannes Film Festival, a critically acclaimed performance in Shattered Glass, and memorable performances in Factory Girl, Jumper, and 2015's praised faith-inspired title 90 Minutes in Heaven among others.
Here, Christensen is tasked with bringing a fairly run-of-the-mill action thriller to life as Will, a Wall Street broker who is trying to reconnect with his son Danny (Ty Shelton) by taking his family on a hunting trip to the cabin where he grew up. Of course, if you've ever seen an action thriller before, you know that the hunting trip won't go as planned when Will and Danny stumble across a group of robbers with one ending up dead. While one could, and probably should, argue that Will follows this up with a series of decisions that are questionable at best, he ends up becoming entangled in a bank heist gone wrong that leads to Danny's kidnapping and Will's being forced to help the bad guys evade the town's police chief, expertly played by Bruce Willis who must hold the world record for playing cops. Forced to help recover the stolen loot or risk losing his son, Will's actions move toward a predictable conclusion but director Steven C. Miller keeps it all flowing quite nicely. First Kill is a "meat and potatoes" thriller, not particularly concerned with originality but fully devoted to telling a story and telling it well.
First Kill is opening up in limited theatrical release 7/21 and is also available On Demand from distributor Lionsgate Premiere. Fans of solid crime thrillers will likely enjoy the film, Christensen's morally complex father figure convincing in both the action sequences and as the protective parent trying to do something right for the first time in a long time. As the key baddie, Gethin Anthony delivers an equally morally complex figure, a man whose motives for everything that unfolds are constantly in play and shifting. This is especially true once young Danny is kidnapped, Ty Shelton's portrayal making the impressionable young boy an increasingly confident one who becomes rather compelling to watch. Bruce Willis could play a police chief in his sleep, but to his credit he's wide awake here in what amounts to not much more than a bit player. As is too often the case, the film's female characters, including Megan Leonard as Danny's mom, are mostly an afterthought in Nick Gordon's otherwise mostly satisfying screenplay.