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'SAS: Red Notice' Review: A standard action jam that wants to say more than it does

Whole lot of dilated pupils in this'n.

Ruby Rose and Sam Heughan in 'SAS: Red Notice'
(Image: © Vertical)

Our Verdict

If you look at it as just a straight action flick and nothing more, you'll have an alright time!


  • 🗡️Once the story gets going, it presents an interesting premise.
  • 🗡️Tom Hopper and Sam Heughan have strong buddy chemistry.
  • 🗡️Cheers to allowing male action heroes to show emotions.


  • 🗡️Incredibly overlong. We could have lost 30-45 minutes and the film would have been better for it.
  • 🗡️A lot of weird dialogue that good actors weren't able to save.

SAS: Red Notice is the type of action flick that wants you engaged with its narrative and its characters. There's plenty of shoot 'em up, bang, bang — don't worry — but there's also plenty of emotional engagement between the players and a story that has a lot more grey area to it than just "good vs. bad." The film struggles in quite a few areas, but its intent does grant it at least a couple of points. You can see what its trying to do, and you want it to nail it. Whether or not it gets there? Well, let's break it down. 

In the beginning, we're led to believe that our narrative will be following Grace Lewis (Ruby Rose) and her family — known "affectionately" as The Black Swans. We're not going to spoil any specific details, but some actions about ten minutes in make it perfectly clear that the Lewis family aren't the heroes of this story. No harm, no foul there. We kick things off with antagonists all the time. The issue is that the story does kind of frame them as protagonists before things go sideways. That water only gets muddier as the story progresses.

Once we're done witnessing some deplorable acts taking place by the hand of the Swans in Georgia (not our Georgia, the other one), we meet Tom Buckingham III (Sam Heughan). Now, it's pretty clear that Tom is our dashing hero. He's got all the makings of the stereotypical spy protagonist, right down to the devilish charm. He's going to propose to his lady love, Dr. Sophie Hart (Hannah John-Kamen), despite the ocean of differences between them. But first, he's got to take down those pesky swans. It's a quick in-and-out job, despite the profile of those they're meant to apprehend. Sans a few casualties (one of which is quite important to Grace), things go off without a hitch and our unwitting hero heads back to Sophie's hospital.

He truly loves her — a refreshing aspect of the film — but she struggles with the fact that he can't seem to find a human reaction to anything in the world but her. Blind to her concern, and confident in his swagger, Tom whisks Sophie away to France via the train. 

Of course, their train just so happens to be the same one that Grace and the remainder of the Swans intend to hijack for reasons that we won't discuss in a spoiler free review. What I will confirm is that they genuinely had no intention of running into Tom or ruining his proposal. Talk about a crazy random happenstance. 

The thing to head into SAS: Red Notice knowing is that its story isn't going to be as airtight as you want it to be. It definitely suffers as a franchise vehicle. By the time the final credits roll it feels more like you've watched a brief origin tale despite the two-hour runtime. Within all that is a story meant to highlight the gray in the standard "good vs. bad" tale, and to call out the multiple evils that exist in any kind of major government body. You can see it trying, and you know what it wants to say. It'd just be nice if it managed to actually articulate it. If you accept all of that early on, you're probably going to have a fun enough time during the action of it all. Some of the performances are rough, and there's some dialogue that a team of solid actors can't save, but Heughan and Hopper (who plays Tom's best friend and partner, Declan) have great buddy chemistry, and Hannah John-Kamen does the best she can with what her character was given. 

SAS: Red Notice will be available to stream March 16th, 2021.

Amelia is an entertainment Streaming Editor at IGN, which means she spends a lot of time analyzing and editing stories on things like Loki, Peacemaker, and The Witcher. In addition to her features and editorial work, she’s also a member of both the Television Critics Association and Critics Choice. A deep love of film and television has kept her happily in the entertainment industry for 7 years.