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“Adam Driver fights dinosaurs” seems to be the social media consensus on 65, in which Adam Driver does indeed fight dinosaurs, but also fear itself, in a surprisingly good and tense thriller directed by Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, the guys who wrote A Quiet Place.

The buzz was not good even before it opened, and the studio kept this film away from the press, allowing only one screening right before it premiered, to minimise negative publicity. Clearly, they felt, something had gone wrong. Which is odd because Driver is a proven quantity, so it should have been something. Sci-fi – also a winner. Dinosaurs – who doesn’t love a dinosaur? And yet…

The studio was right to be nervous but wrong to take fright. This film is not quite what you’d expect, that’s for sure. But that doesn’t mean it’s bad. It’s something different – a chamber piece, for a start, with just a couple of characters and a relatively (by sci-fi standards) short running time of around 90 minutes. A “tight ninety”. It isn’t bombastic. There is no clash-of-civilisations showdown finale. There are no quips.

Instead, strip away the sci-fi element and what you’ve got is A Quiet Place all over again. But instead of Emily Blunt, John Krasinski and kids hiding from monsters, there’s Driver as a guy from some planet in a galaxy far, far away crash-landing into little old planet Earth 65 million years ago (that’s the title explained), finding it thick with dinosaurs and then battling to get off it again with Koa, the only other survivor of the crash, a girl, maybe nine years old, who does not speak his language.

Mills and Koa go on a journey, a quest, away from their crashed and useless ship towards the escape vehicle, which has been thrown off in the descent and lies about 15km away. The film, once all the necessary introductions have been made, is that journey.

Mills and Koa in a dark place
A dark place: Mills and Koa

Between that downed spacecraft and the escape vehicle Beck and Woods lay out a series of fabulously constructed, neatly directed, brilliantly acted set pieces, all of which involve jeopardy – volcanic geysers, sinking mud, claustrophobically narrow tunnels collapsing, an incoming asteroid strike, and, yes, dinosaurs, which are often slinkier and more feline than the Jurassic Park variety. The tech has come a long way.

The arc is something like the TV show The Last of Us: the journey towards potential safety becoming an ad-hoc family unit. And if there’s a nervousness about emotional feelings between a grown man and a girl, that’s dealt with in repeated flashbacks to Mills’s own daughter back on his home planet, these inserts seemingly there just to allay the suspicions of those who see paedophilia in everything. Like me, obviously.

Driver gives good Driver – he was once a Marine and the training stands him in good stead in the action sequences, which largely involve him pointing his gun at something scaly with teeth and blowing it to pieces. Ariana Greenblatt you might know from Love and Monsters, where she was a plausibly fierce little girl with a big gun and lots of attitude. She’s a more muted, less pugnacious version of the same here, dealing with her lack of lines with some dignity.

Neither of them says much. There isn’t a whole lot of dialogue, which reinforces the impression this is A Quiet Place revisited, but it allows Beck and Woods to build atmosphere and stoke the jeopardy.

There is a massive uber-joke towards the end which Beck and Woods reveal as the impetus behind the race-against-time climax. If you think dinosaurs are the main thing to worry about in 65, think again, they ta-daaah.

Lean, tight, tense, I mean, what’s not to like? So there’s not much talking and, all told, not really that many dinosaurs, and maybe Beck and Woods pull that old impending-death-by-dinosaur escape lever (you know the one – another dinosaur turns up) once too often. But maybe that’s meant to be a crowd-pleasing gag too. You cannot please some people. This film’s reputation will be revised upwards over time.

65 – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2023

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