Condor’s Nest (2023) Review
Condor’s Nest was directed and written by Phil Blattenberger (Point Man) and stars Jacob Keohane (Gallery, Sideshow), Al Pagano (Ask for Jane, Ode to Passion), Corinne Britti (Take Care of Emily, Route 80), Jackson Rathbone (WarHunt, Hurt), James Urbaniak (Advantageous, The Occupants), Arnold Vosloo (The Harrowing, Stranglehold), Bruce Davison (Itsy Bitsy, Await the Dawn), and Michael Ironside (Terminator Salvation, Bloodthirsty). It’s about an American pilot traveling to South America long after World War Two to find a Nazi officer, only to find more than just a few stragglers taking up quiet residence.
The Plot: Certainly this is a story that invites a sense of silly escapism with reality taking a back seat to the potential romp that’s so close to Blattenberger’s final output. However, the film isn’t quite sure how it wants to play, finding the plot simple but woefully muddy.
Over the burning skies of Europe in World War Two, Army gunner Sergeant Spalding (Keohane) and his crewmates of a B-17 are shot down and forced to fend for themselves until they can make their way to the frontline and find rescue. Since they’re behind enemy lines, it comes as no surprise that Nazi Colonel Bach (Vosloo, the best part of the film) and his men find the flyboys and take no prisoners – except Spalding, who hid from the enemies. Condor’s Nest has a good enough pull to its plot, but it starts to fall apart soon after the time jump to a decade later in 1954, with Spalding on a personal revenge mission in Argentina.
Working from coerced info, Spalding’s journey gets preposterous in the wrong ways, as he comes across atomic bomb expert Vogel (Pagano; solid) who, after being intercepted on his way to Soviet leader Astakhov (Ironside), agrees to bring him to “the Condor’s Nest” in Bolivia, which houses Bach and other assorted Nazis like Schrude (Davison) and the supposedly dead Himmler (Urbaniak).
That’s all dandy, but the journey to get there is full of contrivances and grating side characters like Ziegler (Rathbone). More than I could reasonably list here. Add in another competing party with Israeli huntress Rahn (Britti), who wants more immediate gratification, and there’s not much hope for Condor’s Nest to turn in an enjoyable plot by the movie’s arrival at the nest.
Only after this endless array of finding, questioning, and repeating does Blattenberger introduce the gonzo elements that should’ve been here before. By then, it’s too late.
The Characters: Caught in between the potential of psychological examination with the first act and the lunacy of the third, Condor’s Nest is at odds with itself regarding the heroes and villains.
Spalding isn’t much of a hero and might catch more ire than support due to his inaction in the opening (before the plane gets shot down all he’s shown doing is sitting and blankly staring while his crewmates do the work) and brutality during his mission. To get the information he needs, he tortures ex-Nazi event planners (not military strategists – literally event planners), beats up locals in a bar, and vows to kill every German in Argentina – Nazi or otherwise – to find Bach. This may have been palatable if Blattenberger tried to examine Spalding’s mental state, but this never happens. Nazis may be awful, but Spalding isn’t much better.
Rahn and Vogel aren’t steps up from the lead. Rahn is tremendously short-sighted, wanting to reach a similar goal as Spalding but without the planning that comes with it. She wants to kill Vogel and find more war criminals, but insists on killing her best source of information before she’s gotten anything out of him. Not that Vogel is much better, since he’s a mediocre depiction of a snake who’d dupe anyone if it meant survival and is essentially just a tangential link in the chain of command.
At least the director had some fun in creating the Nazi characters, who fit within the B-movie setting and have a wide range of personalities. From the believably stoic and unflinching commander like Bach to the maniac Himmler to the comedically bickering Schrude, there’s every Nazi archetype; all equally despicable. Without the necessity of growth or motive, they’re easily the closest Condor’s Nest comes to having memorable characters.
The Adventure: Driven by the journey of discovering pockets of war criminals in unexpected places, Blattenberger tries for a country hopping excursion but ends up with a bland travelogue as a replacement.
Instead of trimming down the drawn-out opening to illustrate the same thing in less time to make room for Spalding’s search, Condor’s Nest instead starts with the unresolved questions not only revolving around exactly how he got back from 120 miles behind enemy lines, but the extreme cut to a decade in the future, leaving the source of information that brought him to Argentina similarly neglected. Maybe he found a vehicle and drove back. Maybe the Nuremberg trials set him off. These details needed to exist, but they don’t.
Not only the 1940s-set scenes are unenlightening, but the main journey to the titular location suffers from weak scripting and coincidence too. Spalding must have the best contacts in the world, as everyone he abducts or interrogates has some kind of connection to the Nazis with the knowledge that will help him complete his mission.
And the luck of the Irish, since even those who refuse to give up their old compatriots have notes and items that point directly where he needs to go. Vogel’s familiarity with some of the other Germans in South America alleviates this level of coincidence, but the film never feels like an adventure anyway, since there’s no sense of discovery. It’s like having a neon sign over a stash of a billion dollars; there’s no challenge.
A third act switch-up turns Condor’s Nest into an unremarkable actioner, but the core of the feature is left unfulfilled, with similar looking locations and the visible hand of the script getting in the way of an organic uncovering of terrible plans in the making.
The Technics: Relatively new to feature filmmaking, Blattenberger and company are entitled to some mistakes, but this outing is chock full of bad choices and the misuse of screentime. Even for a low budget feature, there’s a lot of cause for head scratching.
Pacing isn’t so much an issue for Condor’s Nest. Rather, it’s the allocation of the film’s 103-minute runtime that’s cause for alarm. The opening with Spalding and the flight crew of their bomber lasts a whole 20 minutes, leaving potential money, time, and resources off the table that could’ve been used to develop characters, create more action scenes/location jumps, or simply leave the fat off the movie. It’s a messy start in more ways than one, as there’s a title card as the plane goes down and another title after this sequence is over.
With this being a small film, the scale is going to adjust accordingly. Although it was largely shot in Peru (the rest was shot in Texas and North Carolina), there’s hardly a feeling of uniquity in the setting aside from the first few scenes in Argentina, the last assault, and some establishing shots. Similarly hindered, the scope of the action is limited at best. With all the talk of thousands upon thousands of Reich holdovers, the film fails to back up its promises.
Condor’s Nest is just a weak adventure film with no one to root for and little to see since it never achieves the serious dissection of the fascist flight to South America or the B-movie-fiction of this same premise. Good performances by the supporting cast and decent period design only go so far.