Monday, July 07, 2008


2008, US, directed by Peter Berg

Though there's no doubt that Will Smith can carry a movie on his own - he had to do all of the heavy lifting in his last couple of outings, after all - he seems to benefit here from the presence of a straight man in the form of Jason Bateman, an actor who, after an enjoyable television career, is rapidly becoming one of my favourite big-screen character players. Indeed, he cedes screen time to two strong supporting actors, with Charlize Theron also delivering an engaging performance; Hancock, the rough-around-the-edges superhero essayed by Smith, is perpetually ill-at-ease in her presence, giving the film much of its humour and all of its sexual tension.

While the troubled superhero genre is rapidly being done to death - and is killing much in the way of summer movie alternatives - this is a diverting entry: while the climax seems extremely rushed, and not well integrated with the rest of the film, in a way the fact that the film rejects the exigencies of plot in favour of at least minimal character development is a refreshing change. We actually have the time to stop and think about the relationship between Bateman and Theron - which Peter Berg films in warm close-ups, often without dialogue, in contrast to the colour- and soundscape elsewhere in the film - while the film's big twist seems like more than a simple plot device; by the time it occurs, we've established some emotional connection with the characters.

It's a pity Berg can't preserve the human focus for more of the film's running time, because the effects-laden sequences are poorly constructed, and often verge on the incoherent (the high-octane closing sequences of his previous film, The Kingdom were much more clearly staged). I couldn't help but feel a little queasy, too, at the film's central conceit, that is, that even the worst behaviour can be excused away with a little well-directed PR; as the Bush administration's eighth year winds down, it's really not the kind of thought I like to entertain.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States