' ' Cinema Romantico: Wanted

Monday, June 30, 2008

Wanted

The term Loud is often used to describe action movies. Or perhaps the term Noisy. Well, "Wanted" (based on a comic book by Mark Millar) is Loud and Noisy. But at the same time it contains a certain amount of Elegance. And Grace. I swear it does. Honestly. Despite this movie's flaws - and there's a smattering of 'em - I got just enough to satify my as-ever peculiar appetite. I enjoyed this movie.

James McAvoy is Wesley Gibson, a cubicle drone leading a self-proclaimed worthless life wherein he sucks up to the one obnoxious woman at the office he hates the most while his best friend at work is seeing his even more obnoxious girlfriend behind his back, not that he'd dream of doing anything about it. He takes anti-anxiety pills. He has no idea who he is. But one day while at the pharmacy to fill his prescription a mysterious, beautiful woman named Fox (Angelina Jolie) turns up to advise she knew his father - who left Wesley when he was quite young - and that he just died the previous day at the hands of the man standing directly behind Wesley with a gun. Cue Action Scene!

Wesley escapes with Fox and takes him to the headquarters of The Fraternity, a league of assassins headed by the stately Sloan (Morgan Freeman). They, of course, want Wesley to follow in his father's immense footsteps and take out the very man who killed him. Cue Training Montage!

The good and the bad of "Wanted" can essentially be summed up within that aforementioned first action sequence. The initial shot is Wesley at the counter getting his prescription. Then a shot of Wesley catching a glimpse of the guy after him over his shoulder. Then the first shot repeats itself except this time Fox has slipped into the frame. No whirling camera. No ominous slo-mo. Not even a loud chord on the soundtrack to herald her becoming arrival. She's not there, then she is. As simple as it gets. And also quite effective. The action sequence to follow, however, is loaded with whirling cameras and ominous slo-mo, most especially of bullets - oh God, all the slo-mo bullets.

(I hated "The Matrix" at the time of its release but if I knew how many slo-mo bullets I would have to endure over the next 10 years because of its existence I would have hated it even more. For the love of God, action movie directors, enough with damned slo-mo bullets! It's over! Kaput! Finito! Find something else to beat into the ground!)

Director (in his American debut) Timur Bekmambetov does not seem interested in staying with any one shot for too long in this opening bullet-riddled car chase. At one point Fox kicks out the windshield and is hanging out the open window on the hood firing her gun at the pursuing vehicle. It should be wickedly breathtaking but the camera simply refuses to focus its attention on this image for more than half a second. I wanted to scream, "You HAVE a cool shot! Just let us see it! LET US SEE IT!" But before I could even get 1/8 of the way through my scream he had already indulged in 4 or 5 more incoherent cuts.

The best moment of action in the entire movie is the moment when Wesley's car, with an assist from Fox's, flys up and over a limousine, allowing for a clear gunshot through the sun roof. Yes, it's obviously special effects laden but it also makes sense because he stays with it.

There are more expansive setpieces, to be sure, but I found the film's value in the smaller things, like a certain someone getting bapped in the face by a computer keyboard or the sight of Wesley and Fox astride the roofs of "L" trains as if they were boards in a Hawaiian surf. And in the performances. Don't forget the performances.

As Wesley, McAvoy brings the acting heat. And I gotta' say, I like James McAvoy. I do. I really, really dig this guy. What's the old saying? He could sell ice to eskimos? Well, McAvoy could sell a third copy of "Born to Run" (yes, I have two copies) to me. After this, "Last King of Scotland" and, of course, "Atonement", he might have moved into second place behind Billy Crudup on my Favorite Actor List. He has to change from nebbishly weak to cold-blooded assassin with a summer action screenplay for the spine. It's not easy, but he pulls it off.

Morgan Freeman, meanwhile, gets all Morgan Freeman on us, which is to say he lends loads of gravitas. Even when he's intoning about "fate" or reciting lines like "It's not a question of how, it's a question of what" (at this you'll find yourself nodding and thinking, "Boy, it is a question of what") it comes off as believable.

The performance of the film, though, belongs to the sublime Jolie. I can already hear some people claiming she doesn't really do anything. Precisely! Here we find arguably the most famous woman in the world, what with her marriage to what's-his-face and her 34 kids. You'd think with so much attention paid to her offscreen life that when it comes time to prove her acting shops she would be ripe for overacting with heightened line readings and a grabbag of facial expressions. Instead she goes all Lauren Bacall on us in so much as she understands her own radiance and knows that it's at its most radiant when she's doing not doing anything to show it off. Not since the era of the 1940's Bacall has anyone simply leaned against a wall with such skill and beauty.

There is a moment when she gives a nod to Morgan Freeman. It's so slight you might not even see it. I'm tempted to call it half a nod, but it's even less than half. It's titanically restrained and that's why it's ten times more powerful. Likewise when Wesley re-enters his apartment at a certain point to the verbal berating of his ex-girlfriend we see Fox listening in the hall and you can see what's about to happen coming from the get-go but by refusing to sell it too forcefully Jolie makes it more triumphant than has any right being. In any other movie it would have been a key plot twist but here it's just sorta' her character playing a gag, having a good time.

Okay, okay, okay, so can you enjoy a loud, noisy, cluttered movie that really has nothing go for it beyond three performances and, let's say, 10 or 11 sporadic moments of brilliance? I don't know if you can. That's your decision. But I can. And I did.

(Note: The street where you see the broken bumper on Angelina Jolie's snazzy car fall off is right around the corner from where I used to work. I just thought I'd mention it.)

1 comment:

jack said...

sometimes i wish angelina jolie would show up and tell me i'm a super-killer and snag me in a dodge viper in a parking lot and then i could bend bullets around people, but then i think about having to give up stuff and that the tragic good guy usually loses people close to him and there's usually a lot of running, so it's probably better without i suppose. i wouldn't mind the car though.