He's managed to show just what can be done with the first person camera film without making events seem contrived, the way they seem all too often on bigger releases. Here the use of the camera feels much more natural and in tune with the story and characters.
All in all David Baker has managed to deliver a surprisingly effective film that shows great promise for what he's going to deliver as his film's budgets and resources increase.
Mission X is a film about a film school student in Glasgow who has been looking for something more out of life, something a bit different to the standard student existence both in his film projects and his own personal life.
Somehow he manages to connect online with a real life mercenary and he soon discovers that the man will be arriving in Glasgow for a few days, explaining that he has a film to make and submit as part of his project, and seeing an opportunity, he persuades the mercenary to allow him to film and interview him while he's here.
What the student doesn't realise is that the mercenary is not here on a pleasure trip, he's planning a job, and a big one at that. He's pulling together a crew, scoping the location, and buying the necessary weapons. This is for real, and the film student is going to be taken along for the ride.
I was surprised at how solid the film is and how well it's been made. There doesn't seem to be any mentality of fighting for budget or not being able to do something because of the scale of the film. In fact it still looks and feels as though the film-maker has attacked this project as he would a much bigger film, and there's not very often that the true budget and scale come through the camera.
He's done this very cleverly by concentrating on the characters and the events around the mercenary's job, rather than hitting the high end sections of the story, he's turned it to focus on the smaller scale, but by far the more important. The building of the job, the characters involved and how the team operate, and finally the aftermath of the job itself.
This has proved very effective for the film and it doesn't look as though anything has been deliberately compromised, or that the production couldn't get what was wanted. Rather it seems as though everything has been built from the script upwards with the understanding of what's available and how to make it look the best it can.
With a more serious approach, and the belief that a strong film can be made in this way, Mission X has proven much to itself and the audience.
Early on I felt some clunkiness in the dialogue and actions of the lead character, he often returned too quickly to some standard responses and it didn't flow very well. However looking back on it I wonder if this might have been intentional, to give the impression that the interviewer and the mercenary are struggling to connect and that the student is so clearly out of his depth with the interview and the entire situation he finds himself in.
Once we get the feel of the character the pace picks up, especially when we begin to see Ryan interact with other characters, with other mercenaries. When he's seen arguing with John in the hummer their conversation felt very natural and real, and it began to set the tone for a lot of character interactions to follow. That scene not only marked the change of pace for me, but also had me moving to the mindset of watching a feature film and raising my expectations much more than the average low, or no, budget film.
The real strength of the film comes in a little later on, when the rest of the crew appear and the begin settling in with each other, becoming a team. Some of the interplay between the characters is well scripted and performed, and there's plenty of the dark and real life humour to be had. When together, the actors perform their best and the film follows suit.
Still, as good as the rest of the cast was, I often struggled with the film student and felt he was the weaker performance of the team. At times I felt his character was trying just a little too hard to be the gamer, film-making student interested in war.
There were a few moments where the story leapt forward from the character building sections to the later action sequences, returning quickly to the main storyline, and these felt a little odd. I wondered why we were being interrupted and shown a quick snippet from the action to come.
When it did happen I wasn't sure where we were, what we were watching or why. There was a feel that this was to try and keep those who like action going, promising them that there was some to come. I'm not entirely sure, however I suspect the key here is that it kept teasing the future events.
Come the time for the team to move onto the mission, leaving the character building and relationships and entering the action, it all comes together and these scenes click into place.
The story moved forward well from here, and the action sequences served a good purpose without just being there to satisfy those looking for mercenaries doing what mercenaries do. There's more story progression, and once the action is over it comes to a satisfying and thought provoking conclusion.
By the end of the film it had me thinking about the effect of battle on a soldier on a very personal level. In a way it took me to that same theme from The Hurt Locker (Filmstalker review), that idea of what a soldier returns to after fighting in combat, and how they can cope in day to day life back home. While The Hurt Locker had one scene on this, Mission X has this theme at the core.
The film is very well shot and edited considering the limited resources that they had for the production, and even saying that does the film a disservice, for it delivers well above what one would expect.
I do have to mention the use of cameras through the film, for as I hinted earlier, first person films often drive me to distraction with the film-makers so concentrated on keeping it locked in that first person perspective no matter what. In doing so they often break the laws of normal human nature and logic just to keep the shot going. This was recently seen most in Paranormal Activity (Filmstalker review) which broke so many of these natural boundaries for the character that it broke the suspension of disbelief for the film itself.
Mission X does remember about the rest of the film and places it over the desire to keep the first person camera going. David P. Baker has managed to concentrate on making the camera fit in with the character, their story, and the events around them. The effect is that the camera never feels as though it's out of place, that the character is doing something against his nature with it. The use fits in with the events and when he's panicked or in trouble, that's how it seems on the film.
This is one of the few first person shot films I've seen that feels realistic and doesn't take the audience out of the events. One of the best examples of that is the scene where the two characters are talking in the hummer or the sequences of all the characters together preparing for the mission.
With some solid acting, writing, clever production and direction, and good editing, it does deliver well above what you would expect. I was surprised by the film, and there are some key areas of why it did just that and I enjoyed it.
First person footage: The film holds together the first person filming throughout. Like so many first person Hollywood films it doesn't lose the audience in maintaining the first person filming, and that leads me to the second point.
Concentration on character: The film is about the characters above all, and the first person footage remains in character rather than we see in Hollywood, the scenes becoming some very out of character moments. Even the mission itself becomes unimportant and the film becomes about the camaraderie and how these soldiers just can't return to a "normal" way of life. It also manages to keep the pace going without becoming too slow.
The ending: A satisfying ending that asks more questions than anything else, and it's when the ending comes that you truly realise that the film is not about the film-maker or the mission, but about these men.
Add all these things together and Mission X is a really good film, and when you see the constraints of filming you can hardly believe that they've managed to make it feel so big and so focussed. This shows some talented film-making.
Making of featurette, David P. Baker and Grant Timms interview, Locations, Cast & Crew, Deleted Scenes, Weapons, No Budget Movie Kit, Video Diaries, Mercenary Mobile Phone Footage, Witness Video Footage
Making of featurette:
The featurette begins with an introduction by David P. Baker which is extremely revealing about the film-making process for Mission X. He reveals a great deal about the position they started the film from, and really does show that this is about a passion for film-making. He tells us that he lost his five hundred thousand budget for his first film and just had to shoot something, filming on a mobile camera until he managed to get hold of something a bit more meatier.
This is a very long featurette with tons of unedited behind the scenes footage showing you how scenes were conceived, produced and ultimately made, and there's even a little bit about the post production too. Well worth watching, although for the non-fan of Mission X and/or independent film they might find it goes on a little too long.
David P. Baker and Grant Timms interview:
In-depth interviews with the producer/writer/director/editor/star and the cameraman/editor/star of the film, yes in independent films people do a lot of jobs.
David P. Baker takes us through a couple of the main locations and talks about why he wanted them and the logistics behind getting to film there.
Cast & Crew:
Lets the cast and crew talk to the camera explaining who they are, who they are playing, and how they thought of the film shoot. There's even a strange unintentionally hidden scene at the end, although maybe that was just my copy!
There are a couple of deleted scenes with one talking about the body cam and sets up the scene later on when it's used. This was probably a difficult scene to decide to drop because later on we do see the body camera, and this does show a little of how the student is setting things up for filming the mission and perpetuates the idea of how the film can keep that first person aspect going.
Another scene plays out between the Irish mercenary and Ryan that reveals some more of the characters and who they are, another interesting scene, and another I imagine that was hard to decide to drop.
This would have been much more interesting if the featurette had gone through all the weapons in the film, but we do get to see how the AK-47 operates and hear just how loud it is when there's some test firing in the shopping centre car park.
No Budget Movie Kit:
If you want to learn how the film was made with next no budget what so ever, then this is the featurette for you. David P. Baker and Grant Timms talk you through the equipment that they used to make the film, and just how old and used they were - the equipment, not the men themselves.
Here we get to see some footage shot for the website and blogs showing the main character filming some sequences after the attack in the film, these clips were used mainly for online marketing but provide some insight into the characters.
Mercenary Mobile Phone Footage:
An extended scene of the three mercenaries taking drugs and chatting which was all shot on a mobile phone. What's surprising is how well it works.
Witness Video Footage:
A short scene of the mercenaries in the bed store, most of which was used in the film.
Buy Mission X from the official site
Download Mission X - currently this is Windows Media only, but DivX (for PS3 and XBox 360), iPod, iPhone and iTouch versions are coming
Mission X Twitter stream
David P. Baker official site
David P. Baker on Twitter