World War Z

World-War-Z-posterFurther global annihilation awaits audiences this weekend in the form of World War Z, a massively expensive summer tentpole picture geared toward action-seekers and zombie fanatics, though it’s likely to please one of those crowds more than the other.  The film is based on a novel by Max Brooks of which I conquered a mountainous six pages.  That’s not to the novel’s detriment.  I merely put it down and never picked it back up.

No matter.  The screenplay divided up by three writers apparently ditched the source material and instead journeys with Gerry Lane played capably by superstar Brad Pitt.  Gerry has one of those professions never fully explained, but he is recruited out of retirement by the United Nations on a global quest to track down the origins of a zombie virus that has catapulted the planet into chaos.

The film opens with Gerry and his family—wife and two young daughters—traveling in the car when the outbreak hits.  Cars slam into each other.  Crowds flee in the streets.  Hordes of rabid human undead attack civilians on the run and spread the pandemic.  Within seconds, humans are fed on and turned to monstrous, speedy, lethal cannibals.

Gerry is offered a secure naval base shelter for his family in exchange for his efforts to track the down the spread of the virus.  He joins a military strike force and globe-trots from the U.S. to South Korea to Jerusalem in search for answers that might allow him to find a cure for the spreading contagion.

Unfortunately for World War Z, the film has arrived following a wave of negative buzz after its production budget ballooned to unfathomable proportions for this type of zombie apocalypse thriller.  A third act rewrite and reshoot didn’t help matters especially when rumors spread that Brad Pitt quit talking to the director, Marc Forster (Quantum of Solace, Machine Gun Preacher), and threatened to walk out on the film.  Consider all the rumors hearsay.  What we finally have onscreen is pure unrelenting entertainment from start to finish, a film that easily outguns and KO’s all alien superheroes and fast car lovers.

world-war-z-brad-pittWorld War Z is a superb suspense-thriller and manages to succeed against all odds even for a PG-13 zombie film.  Whether Forster, his editors, or his writers pulled off the magic required or blind luck intervened, this was not the choppy moviegoing experience I was expecting.  The computer-generated mounds of zombies featured in the trailers raised I Am Legend-sized visual doubts, but actually turn out to be quite freaky physical specimens, which are (in individual cases) actually human actors sporting incredible makeup and prosthetic enhancements sans much of the gore fans have become accustomed to.

Believe me when I say the lack of blood never once hinders the film from its storytelling ambitions, nor from rampant intensity and scares.  There are plenty of jump-out-of-your-seat moments.  Several sequences mount tingling suspense.  The filmmakers have flat-out created a well-structured thriller that flows neatly across continents from start to finish atop Brad Pitt’s shoulders.  Its his show and he does create a genuine character that the audience can root for as he struggles to return to his family and save the world.

At a tight 2 hour running time, World War Z delivers the goods and winds up a fine summer blockbuster filled with big action, big thrills, and the kind of suspense this season has been lacking.  Despite the lack of blood, the movie has plenty of guts, and it knows how to turn up the intensity to eleven.  Skip the 3D conversion and forget about a faithful adaptation to novel.  If you can do so I’m betting you’ll eat it up.

 

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The Hurt Locker

Here is the sharp, intelligent action-thriller audiences have been craving and probably missed.  Why the studio opted to keep this one in limited release is beyond me.  “The Hurt Locker,” directed by Kathryn Bigelow (Point Break, Strange Days), could’ve broken the stigma on Iraq-war films and, with some solid marketing behind it, may have easily performed to the tune of at least $60 million, or a total similar to 2005’s “Jarhead.” Oh well, so much for living in the past.  The intensity of the film can still be taken on its own terms, and luckily “The Hurt Locker” has been making the rounds in most critics’ top-ten lists for the year, receiving a lot of Best Picture buzz and wins around awards’ circles.  And the credit is most certainly due.  This film is razor-sharp.

Jeremy Renner (28 Weeks Later) shows off some acting chops as Sgt. William James, the new team leader of a group of bomb diffusers operating in Iraq.  He has two other soldiers working with him to provide his cover fire as he dresses himself in a protective bombsuit to disarm the weapons.  His rogue-like ways soon test the other members’ trust in their squad-leader, and the risk of their already-dangerous job increases.

This film has a superior director in Kathryn Bigelow, whose amazing talent and feel for the material makes for a truly ambitious film.  Her movie captures much of the action ‘pow’ while keeping it in a realistic, intense, and intelligent environment.  The actors help, especially Jeremy Renner whose performance has received a good deal of attention.  While the film caught critics’ attention last year at film festivals, it is finally earning its keep this year.  Granted, the film didn’t get enough exposure or box office performance to find a Best Picture Oscar, but the Academy nominations are certain, and Bigelow might walk away with a much-deserved “Best Director” statue if she can fend off former hubby Jim Cameron and his “Avatar” opus.  “The Hurt Locker” is easily one of the best war films of the last decade, and I’m glad to see it finding the recognition it’s received this year. 

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