AppleTV+’s hostage actioner strips the source material down to its most generic.
There’s nothing wrong with adaptations finding their own path. In fact, it should be encouraged. Slavish devotion to the source material leads to dramatically inert material. That said, there are far better ways to adapt existing works than this. Echo 3’s team, led by series creator Mark Boal, has missed the mark in interpreting Amir Gutfreund’s novel When Heroes Fly and the first television adaption from Omri Givon.
In attempting to streamline Fly’s storytelling, Boal et al. have stripped away much of the complexity. For instance, the plot has gone from Israeli special forces soldiers pursuing a long thought dead person in Chicago (in the novel) to Israeli special forces soldiers pursuing a long thought dead person in Colombia to American special forces soldiers pursuing a briefly missing person in Colombia. By Echo 3, it’s been reduced to a boilerplate scenario. It’s just another instance of American soldiers going rogue in a South American country for someone important to them. The other two previous versions are stranger, less generic, and more interesting.
Unfortunately, this is the case over and over with the series. Throughout the first five episodes provided for critics, Echo 3 repeatedly pursues the less exciting path, makes the less challenging choice. The result is the kind of “dad television” that feels like a slightly grittier cousin to a network military procedural. Mark Harmon’s Gibbs couldn’t star in Echo 3. On the other hand, you wouldn’t be shocked if Luke Evans’ Bambi (yes, Bambi) had to deal with him in a crossover episode ala Detective Munch visiting The X-Files.
As that sort of thing, however, it is quite competent. Boal knows his way around telling cinematically scaled military stories and does well scaling and pacing that for television. In the second episode, “Tora Bora in the City,” a botched hostage rescue on a snowy mountain is especially effective. Director Pablo Trapero provides viewers a useful sense of scale without losing the characters in the drifts. The episode captures both the sense fo the special forces’ camaraderie and the banality of yet another mission gone awry.
That competency, though, often serves to underline how much better the work could have been realized. Evans does the best with his role as can. Still, as professional by the book soldier turned concerned brother by his sister Amber’s (Jessica Ann Collins) kidnapping by apparent Colombian revolutionaries there’s not a lot there. Evans has about eight gears and only gets to use about two here. And of the two, it’s mainly just the one that has him flexing his jaw muscles and hinting at some deeper, harder-to-wrangle anger under the skin. Prince (Michiel Huisman), Bambi’s wealthy teammate turned Amber’s husband, doesn’t fare much better. He gives off the right amount of “how dare the world not work as I want it to” privilege. Unfortunately, the scripts give him strands him as a petulant doofus. With a deeper inner life, the part could’ve either been more tragic or unnerving.
Echo 3 repeatedly pursues the less exciting path, makes the less challenging choice.
Collins is the only American on the top-billed trio. Strangely, though, she seems to be the one struggling hardest to nail an American accent. It is difficult to describe, but this reviewer had to check and re-check her country of origin, so strong is the vibe that she’s, say, French trying to play generic American. This oddity aside, however, she’s best served by the material. She is allowed to play a full range of emotions and does often unexpected things with her big beats.
For instance, at one point she must face down her interrogators, who have become convinced she’s more than just a scientist. As she tries to argue otherwise, her temper rises slowly. Without overdoing, it quickly becomes apparent, she’s fighting losing it on two fronts. Her captors and her current helplessness are maddening, yes. However, there’s also an unspoken anger towards a husband whose thoughtless overprotectiveness has made this situation so much worse.
Alas, there’s too little Collins in the first five episodes and too much of her brother and her husband. The show is far more invested in that duo pinballing from crisis point to crisis point with little by way of nuance or critical thinking. In a just fictional world, Amber would be our hero. Her gun-happy brother and jerk husband would be the supporting players. Unfortunately, Echo 3 offers no such justice.
Echo 3 goes on flyaway beginning November 23 on AppleTV+.