Storm Force, originally titled Windkracht10: Koksijde Rescue, is an engaging, action filled drama about a Belgian search and rescue team. Director Hans Herbots skillfully weaves together romance, daring helicopter rescues at sea and subtle humor to create a film that pulls in the viewer and invests us deeply in the outcome.
Storm Force comes out of a long pedigree of dramatic films about dangerous professions, particularly those that involve saving lives. Police and firefighters grab most of the glory, but there have been a few entries for other life savers. Storm Force is very similar to Ashton Kutcher's Coast Guard film The Guardian, except that it is much more intelligent, better acted, directed and written, and made for probably one tenth the budget by Belgians.
The film starts with a training exercise, sort of a capture the flag game with the Belgian Navy competing against the Air Force. Our hero Rick Symons, played by Kevin Janssens, is on the Navy team, and embarrasses his bosses by blowing up a government minister's car in order to win the exercise. He also earns the enmity of Alex (Veerle Baetens), by stripping her to her underwear and tying her to a tree during the exercise in retaliation for her having some of his fellows strip searched. (One can see how that would be annoying.) Of course, when he is transferred to an Air Force search and rescue team as punishment for his shenanigans, Alex is the medic he has to work with every day.
Rick is a rescue diver, and seems to have a dark, troubled past. Quite a few people hate him for unstated misdeeds, and his best friend Koen (Axel Daeseleire) is confined to a wheelchair, which condition may or may not be Rick's fault. Most of the film deals with Rick coming to terms with his past while integrating with his new rescue team compatriots as they brave storms and sinking ships to pluck the unlucky from certain death.
It is difficult to say enough good things about Storm Force. The story, though the initial scenes are a bit silly, quickly grabs our attention and pulls us into the insular world of the 40th Search and Rescue Team, with all their illicit romances, infighting, practical jokes and rivalries. The camaraderie of the team is shown in a very human and natural way, with distinct characters who act and talk like actual people we have all seen and known. The rescue scenes are very impressive. I am certain that CGI must have been used at some point to actualize an aerial rescue from a sailboat in a heavy storm, but the effects are integrated so seamlessly that the viewer can't pick them out. The film is realistic and subtle, with humor sparingly but effectively used. I laughed out loud on at least a couple of occasions.
The acting is superb on the part of all of the major actors, rarely striking a false note. However, this brings me to my only major complaint about the disc. Audio is only available in a dubbed English language version, with no original language track or subtitles. As is often the case with dubbed films, the voice work is hammy and incongruous with the tone of the film. The visual performances of the actors are exemplary, but the voices that come out of their mouths don't come close to measuring up. For a lowbrow action film this doesn't matter much, but for a fairly serious dramatic piece such as Storm Force, it greatly hampers the experience. Admittedly, this review is based on a promo disc. Hopefully, the final product will have the option of watching the film with the original language track and subtitles.