There are countless movies that have used the “race against the clock” concept. Almost every single one of Christopher Nolan’s movies has a ticking time bomb aspect to it, and in Tenet, he inverted time to script a war between humanity’s ancestors and descendants. Several sci-fi rescue thrillers like Escape from New York, Armageddon, Back to the Future, and Source Code have smartly used some sort of impending doom to ramp up the tension. Relatively grounded movies such as Speed, 1917, Premium Rush, Run Lola Run, and the entirety of the Mission: Impossible franchise have shown how going fast enough can force time to bow before you. Netflix’s latest release, Sixty Minutes, is a fantastic entrant in this subgenre, while also being a strong front-runner in the “best action movie of the year” race.
Oliver Kienle’s Sixty Minutes, which he has co-written with Philip Koch, tells the story of Octavio Bergmann (also known as Octa), who is an MMA fighter. His handler is Paul, and his friends are Cosima, Annika, Bruno, and Rico. He has a big fight with Benko, and apparently, it’s so high-profile that it’s going to solve the gym’s money woes. But the date of the fight coincides with Octa’s daughter’s birthday. Octa promises Leonie (his daughter) that he is going to be at the party on time with a pet cat and her favorite cake. However, it’s obvious that he isn’t going to make it because that’s what he has done for the past few years. Since Paul’s ex, Mina, is aware of this pattern of behavior, she tells Octa that he has an hour to prove if he is serious about keeping the promises that he makes to Leonie or lose his privilege of meeting her. Octa immediately decides to go to his daughter, and that’s when he realizes that there are several criminal factors associated with the fight that are now after his life.
Sixty Minutes has a pretty simple “get from point A to point B” premise. The stakes are quite easy to understand as well: if Octa gets to his destination on time, he retains custody of his daughter, and if he doesn’t get there on time, he probably won’t be able to see his daughter again, and he’ll have to live with the knowledge that Leonie hates him. And the reason behind his delay are the goons who are after him. But instead of repurposing the cliche “a good father proving his worth” tale, Koch and Kienle treat Octa’s journey as a “trial by fire” redemption arc. He has made a lot of mistakes, and through this grueling ordeal, he needs to learn that everything that is keeping him from meeting his daughter is a result of his life choices. So, by the time his race against time comes to a close, you aren’t left with the misogynistic feeling that, “Well, his wife could have avoided this whole situation.” Instead, there’s the realization that, more than anyone else in the world, Octa and many other irresponsible men like him need this kind of push to understand what they should prioritize in their lives, if they truly mean it.
In addition to all that, Sixty Minutes has some good old-fashioned dunking on the police. It has the subtlest moments of friendship and familial love. The costume design around Octa can feel negligible, but I think it is a good advertisement for the shoes, the clothes, and the smartwatch that he wears because they are durable as hell! The use of the city itself—with the help of graphics and various kinds of public transport—is great. And then there are the action sequences, which are nothing short of magnificent. The stunt work, the lighting, the camera work, the commitment of the actors, the diversity of the settings, the overall pacing, the sound design, the editing—it’s all perfect. I am not an MMA expert, but the way it’s seamlessly integrated into every brutal altercation is somehow smooth and gritty at the same time. I know that people have developed a habit of comparing everything to John Wick nowadays, and just because of that disco fight, it’s bound to draw such comments. However, I think Kienle, and his insanely talented team draw more inspiration from Bloodsport, Blood and Bone, District 13, Flash Point, SPL, and old Hong Kong action flicks than some of the more recent action films. Kienle even finds a creative way to make Octa do the “Naruto run” by tying his hands to a chair and making him sprint to the subway train. That’s why it feels like a throwback to the 2000s whilst having a modern aesthetic.
The two things that January is associated with are joining the gym as a New Year’s resolution and dumping films that won’t create any kind of buzz this month. Sixty Minutes has the potential to break both of these cliches with the quality of its storytelling and the raw appeal of Emilio Sakraya. I mean, I will be surprised if people don’t start signing up for MMA classes to bob and weave and punch and kick like Octavio right after watching this film. I will also be surprised if the film and Sakraya’s performance don’t end up on the “best of the year” lists of cinephiles or action genre fans. It’s truly fascinating to watch Emilio switch between stoicism and Bruce Lee levels of athleticism. And he is equally good during the extreme close-ups as he expresses Octa’s vulnerability and moments of self-reflection. Now, that is what I call a true action star! The rest of the cast is fantastic, too. Dennis Mojen’s blend of loyalty and desperation is good. Marie Mouroum, Florian Schmidtke, Aristo Luis, Enikő Fülöp, and Bruce Willow are exquisite in their respective action-heavy moments. Paul Wollin brilliantly portrays Chino’s relentless nature. A major shoutout should go out to all the henchmen who take a beating and all the stunt doubles who make the actors look great on-screen. Without them, this movie wouldn’t exist.
From the fight in the alley to the one in the desolate warehouse, I whooped and cheered during all the action sequences in Sixty Minutes. If that doesn’t look like a massive seal of approval, to be honest, I don’t know what will. It is mind-boggling that Netflix puts so much effort into promoting bland and bloated stuff like The Gray Man, Heart of Stone, Red Notice, and Lift while completely undermining straight-up action masterpieces like Ballerina, AKA, the Lost Bullet duology, The Night Comes for Us, Furies, Kill Boksoon, The Big 4, The Brothers Sun, and now, Sixty Minutes. They are distributing all of them, and yet they always prioritize the products that have nothing but big names. Maybe in 2024, they’ll have a change of heart and push movies and shows that have a healthy balance of style and substance. And maybe they’ll also shift to theatrical releases—because their streaming model is largely reliant on licensed properties that had a successful theatrical release—and allow a film like Sixty Minutes to be shown in all its cinematic glory.