Not long into episode one, and months after Bambi and Prince survive the Afghanistan mission, Amber is kidnapped in Colombia. She’s nabbed by radicals while doing scientific research on alkaloids, and the military-grade tracking device that Prince sewed into her backpack makes them suspicious that she is a disruptor. Because she is an American woman—and the daughter of a wealthy arms dealer (Bradley Whitford)—the CIA, the White House, the Colombian government, and the media get involved. But with all of their experience and kills between them, Bambi and Prince fly down there ready to pick her up themselves at the beginning of episode two. They’re ready to do anything, and they roll up to the US Embassy as if answering a casting call. The two are given some access to behind-the-scenes operations, including how the Colombian military is tightly surveilling the Bogotá compound now holding Amber, but it’s not enough. Bambi and Prince load up and try to fix this themselves, and it doesn’t go as planned. And yet it is thrilling to see unfold, not just for the cinematography that immerses us into the city’s tight corridors by trailing behind their calculated military-informed two-person invasion, or the tempered sound mixing that’s interrupted only by gunshots, but because it proves to make things much worse.
“Echo 3” is adapted from the series “Where Heroes Fly” and directed by Pablo Trapero, Claudia Llosa (a Peruvian superstar who directed the country’s first Oscar-nominated film in 2009) and Boal, and it offers quite a rush; the messiness that thwarts trying to save Amber becomes an exciting texture to its drama. Meanwhile, “Echo 3” keeps us on our toes by firmly treating Bambi, Prince, and Amber as outsiders who are no match for many other game pieces that have firmly been in place.
This is not the “Taken” or “Commando” way of doing a story, referring to countless Hollywood stories about how killing skills and firepower can fix a personal problem and blow through any political issues. It’s not a stretch that this is the more human version, which makes it more painful and also more thrilling. The plotting creates a deeper sense of this by establishing a rich sense of political messiness in the story, of politicians’ hands being tied behind at a certain point. And this sense is established by how its storytelling values atmosphere and emotional reflection—the violence and drama in “Echo 3” feels generally different thanks to how its editing will cross-cut a shoot-out or a conversation with flashes of nature, like a bug on a leaf, or images of the childhood trauma the brother and sister share. “Echo 3” still makes space for gratifying, thrilling moments that push the narrative forward, but it also makes one aware of the confines that all of the humans on-screen face.
“Echo 3” creates such a sound reputation for uneasiness that its biggest sequences only become tenser and tenser. A hostage operation in episode one, which has Bambi, Prince, and their group dropping into a Taliban base in Afghanistan and executing some rote military action thrills, is only just the beginning. It’s essentially a great misdirection. If you thought that scene was tense, wait until it gets to the end of episode three (directed with stunning precision by Llosa) or the gripping, character-based developments in episode five (directed by Boal). As the story can shift its character focus and sometimes take its time, it still has a tension that makes one person’s desperate act more pulse-pounding than a shootout.