Review: Weight of exposition drags down the strong premise of South African thriller ‘Indemnity’

A man wearing a suit jacket places wired patches on another man's forehead and temples
Jarrid Geduld in “Indemnity.”
(Magnet Releasing)
Share via

The best and worst of modern action movies are on display in “Indemnity,” a South African thriller that features a sympathetic protagonist, a clever mystery and multiple white-knuckle chase sequences — all weighed down by way more backstory and explanation than necessary.

Jarrid Geduld stars as Theo Abrams, a Cape Town firefighter who has been unemployed and coping with PTSD since two of his colleagues died on the job. One morning, he wakes up to find his wife dead in their bed — and the police knocking on the door. Theo goes on the run, calling in favors from old friends and relying on his long-dormant skills as an emergency worker as he races to clear his name.

For your safety

The Times is committed to reviewing theatrical film releases during the COVID-19 pandemic. Because moviegoing carries risks during this time, we remind readers to follow health and safety guidelines as outlined by the CDC and local health officials.

That’s a strong premise, made even stronger by a nifty twist. As Theo investigates his wife’s murder, he discovers he may be an unwitting subject in a defense contractor’s secret experiment. In other words: He could have unconsciously been the killer.


The main problem with “Indemnity” is that while writer-director Travis Taute generates remarkable tension in the scenes where Theo is barely escaping the authorities and hurriedly digging into a possible conspiracy, the movie takes forever to really start rolling. Even then, it makes frequent stops.

The death of Theo’s wife doesn’t even happen until half an hour into this two-hour film, preceded by a lot of scenes exploring what the hero’s life has been like since he stopped fighting fires.

Geduld gives a terrific performance, making Theo believably flawed and human; but this plot doesn’t need that much set-up.

The fitful pacing is also due in part to a diffuse focus, as Taute keeps cutting away from Theo to spend time with the detectives and the hired goons who are on his tail. By the time the picture reaches its climax, so many players have been loaded into the story that it sort of lumbers to a close.

There is a solid 80-minute genre film buried in “Indemnity,” for those with the patience to wait around for the highlights. But Taute has taken those good bits and sprinkled them into an over-earnest study of a broken man overcoming trauma. This is a B-movie with the pretensions of a prestige drama; and frankly, the less ambitious version would’ve likely been better.


In Afrikaans and English with English subtitles

Not rated

Running time: 2 hours, 4 minutes

Playing: Starts Feb. 11 at Laemmle Glendale; also available on VOD