Friday, June 27, 2008

"Wanted" is real ballet, like all super-hero movies


Wanted,” directed by Timur Bekmanbatov, and from Universal, certainly illustrates action film for its own sake. It’s pretty much a ballet, choreographed to a mesmerizing orchestral score by Danny Elfman, with lots of repeated quarter notes in common time, arranged to simulate a “Dies Irae” shape. James McAvoy carries of the dance with great charisma. An ordinary guy can reach his destiny and become a kind of superman, yeah.

The movie comes from comic book characters by Mark Miller and J.G. Jones, and the screenplay was written by Michael Brandt, Derek Haas and Chris Morgan. And a shooting script would have required enormous detail.

Well, “Wesley Gibson” does return plenty of search engine documents, starting in Wikipedia, as “The Killer” in the comic book series. We know that the movie starts at his boss’s (Lorna Scott) office birthday party, and we also learn that he is an “account manager” and not just an “account servicer.” (Maybe he has no search engine references because his boss made him give up Myspace to avoid confusing clients!) Wesley is a real wimp who takes prozac or something similar. His buddy Barry (Chris Pratt, “Bright” from Everwood) gets all the action. He lives in slum in Chicago, next to the El, and somehow has a girlfriend. Pretty soon things take off, as he is napped by Sloan (Morgan Freeman, in his form from “Se7en”) and told that his pap was an assassin in a thousand year old fraternity. Fox (Angelina Jolie) will train him, brutally, and prove that a woman can be a lot stronger than a weak man; but Wesley will transform from a wimp to a leopard quickly; it's in his dad's DNA.

That’s where the ballet takes over. The images (including reparative sitz baths with some wax thrown in) take over and create their own logic. Eventually he winds up chasing his prey in Kosovo or some such place, with a climatic train wreck over a chasm that recalls “The Cassandra Crossing.” And there is some perverse logic to the ending, which I won’t spoil – but instead of “Mouse Hunt” we have a real “Rat Pack.” The movie, however, brings up a lot of issues with all of these visual metaphors. That’s what keeps it working. For example, the textile factory (it has to be something that could have existed a millennium ago) provides a vehicle for steganography, for identifying the next marks in binary code corresponding to the threads (or the iron core studs in a mainframe computer, as in all those textbooks). A serious incident, that I think really happened, where a judge was targeted by the Chicago Mafia gets mentioned.

McAvoy seems even more effective in the part with his slight build. (Tom Welling or Jared Padalecki wouldn’t quite work, but it’s easy to imagine that Shia La Beouf or Gregory Smith, who looks a bit like McAvoy from a distance and who costarred with Pratt in Everwood, could have been cast). Scottish born McAvoy, whose normal native speech is heavily accented, is quite effective as an “ordinary middle class” American. (I don’t know how actors learn to speak so well in non-native accents.) And his actions do punctuate the story with evidence character and moral sense, which will take him above the norms of the fraternity. It’s always important that the hero (whether Clark Kent, Sam Winchester, or Ephram Brown, or Wesley Gibson) do that to keep the audience bonded. Wesley will be a much better man than his father.

The 8 PM show for this movie at a Regal in Arlington nearly sold out (in a large auditorium).

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