Division 19 Movie Review

Written by Karin Crighton

Released by Uncork'd Entertainment

division 19 large

Written and directed by S. A. Halewood
93 minutes, 2017, Not Rated
Released on April 5th, 2019

Alison Doody as Neilsen
Linus Roache as Charles Lynden
Jamie Draven as Hardin Jones
Will Rothhaar as Nash

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In the year 2039, prisons make their operating costs by selling felons as entertainment. In order to combat overcrowding and satisfy a hungry marketplace, prison entertainment chair Neilsen has devised the ultimate plan: a town for felon rehabilitation where they can “earn” their way back to society. If only the cons weren’t playing with loaded dice that will make sure they never win.

I wish I could explain how long it took me to boil down this knotted storyline and formless plot to make that logline. Here’s a clue: I didn’t learn the felons were being pitted to lose their chances back until over an hour in. I didn’t even know who the main character was for the first 30 minutes.

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Screenwriter S. A. Halewood is a celebrated, BAFTA-nominated director, which is why I’m so confused at how this story plays out. A brilliant concept, Division 19 begins with the exploitation of convicts in prisons. Unbeknownst to them, their boxing matches are publicized for everyone to see…that and their cigarette brands, choices in denim, and even their showers are shown without their consent. Nash Jones (Will Rothhaar) is a cyber genius trying to disrupt the system by breaking into the federal reserves and private banks, all while working to spring his uber-popular felon brother Hardin (Jamie Draven) from jail before Hardin is shipped off to the sterling new community “Newtown”. There, he will be brainwashed (or chip-implanted, it is hard to tell) to win or lose obstacles and fights based on public influence. And there will be no chance of escape.

Again, it took me an hour to boil down this plot to the above paragraph. Interspersed like a parasitic vine within this story are two more threads. The first follows a businessman called Charles Lynden (Linus Roache), who’s mad about Nash, but I’m not sure how they’re directly connected. Then we have Neilsen (Alison Doody), the prison warden? Overseer? Programming director? Lynden knows her, but we don’t know how. And he’s mad about the private town because he doesn’t want to release the prisoners. But Neilsen doesn’t tell him she’s not, so I still don’t know why he’s upset. I also don’t understand why Neilsen seems to have a crush on Hardin. Also is Nash or Hardin the main character? How does the viewer counter change from 16 to 22 million viewers that fast? Who’s watching even? Why do we never see an audience or a single civilian? Why didn’t they reshoot any scenes where Draven forgot to do an American accent? And why is there a Parkour Police force? Yeah.

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This is an ambitious plot that would have benefited from crisp editing, a strict proofreader, and creative action sequences. The cinematography is beautiful, and I'll give you that the lighting moody and poetic. Linus Roache gives an excellent performance, and we get an entertaining one from Jennifer Soo as Neilsen’s hammy assistant George. But the amount of information we are just told rather than shown makes the film lackluster and baffling. We literally never see Nash hack a single thing. I can’t remember him touching a keyboard. We only see them parkouring over building roofs and suddenly we’re told he robbed a bank. Nash is inside Newtown, then suddenly Hardin has him in a car and we’re told they escaped. The main cast have no actions to play, only a mood, which wears thin very quickly.

Division 19 wants to make a point desperately, taking itself so seriously that it doesn’t let the viewer have any fun either. A messy collection of angry white boys in basements, villains with British accents, and conversations that confuse rather than conclude, Division 19 is just a beautiful waste of time.

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Movie: onestar Cover

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