2011

Haywire (2011, Steven Soderbergh)

Haywire’s plotting is meticulous and exquisite. And entirely a budgetary constraint. It’s a globe trotting, action-packed spy thriller with lots of name stars. The action in the globe trotted areas, for instance, is more chase scenes than explosions. Haywire doesn’t blow up Barcelona, lead Gina Carano chases someone down the streets. She doesn’t land a 747 in Dublin, she has a chase scene on the rooftops. And director Soderbergh does phenomenally with those sequences. While Carano’s in real danger and Soderbergh’s shooting realistic DV, David Holmes’s music riffs back to sixties spy movie music and contextualizes things. You still get to have fun watching the spy movie. You’re supposed to have fun. It’s just a different kind of spy movie.

One where the action set pieces are what Carano does, whether it’s stunts or fight scenes, she’s the action. Soderbergh and writer Lem Dobbs space out the action sequences, sometimes not actually going with a big Carano sequence in the situation. Sometimes the film focuses on her adversaries or allies. Soderbergh and Dobbs do a lot of action thriller without a lot of money.

The film starts with Carano–former Marine and spy-mercenary–is on the run. We don’t know from who, because when Channing Tatum shows up to bring her in, they don’t say the character’s name. It becomes obvious pretty soon, but Soderbergh and Dobbs go through all the motions to give Haywire a conspiracy thriller foundation. They don’t have time to engage with it–or, presumably, money–but it’s part of the film’s texture. Some creative decisions in Haywire just plump up the film. Soderbergh’s not trying to make a low budget spy thriller, he’s making a spy thriller with a low budget. He’s not… chintzing.

So after the first Carano action sequence, the film gets into flashback and explains Barcelona and Dublin, which keep coming up in dialogue. They seem less destinations for major spy intrigue and more stops on a tour group’s European vacation. Nicely, both sequences really pay off. They live up to the hype, even if the hype was really nonspecific so Dobbs and Soderbergh could up the mysteriousness.

Then it’s the flashback catching up to present and the film resolving. Ninety-three minutes of not entirely lean–though subplot-free–narrative. Carano works her way through various other spies and government officials. They’re sort of in glorified cameos, but it never feels like it. The magic of the pacing. Bill Paxton, for example, is in a cameo role. He’s in two scenes. One on the phone. But Dobbs and Soderbergh pace it where Paxton feels like an active supporting player. It’s impressive to see executed. Paxton’s fine–it’s a cameo, he’s got nothing to do–but the feat is how the filmmakers pull it off.

Paxton’s Carano’s dad. Ewan McGregor is her spies for hire boss, Tatum is a fellow spy for hire, Michael Fassbender is a fellow (but British) spy for hire. Michael Douglas and Antonio Banderas as government guys who hire spies for hire. Anthony Brandon Wong and Mathieu Kassovitz are the guys the spies for hire go after. No one trusts anyone else. Something Dobbs and Soderbergh take their time addressing, which shifts the film from spy action to spy thriller, both for the film itself and Carano’s understanding of her situation.

So Carano.

As dubbed by Laura San Giacomo.

Yes, really.

Physically she’s great. The stunts, the fighting. It’s all nearly silent–trained killers don’t exchange banter in the seedy international spy ring underbelly of Dublin–so it’s just the fight, just the choreographer, just Carano and the actors and the stunt fighters. The fights are excellent. Soderbergh’s editing and photography, the fighters, Carano–great.

Carano dramatically? She’s really likable. Sympathetic. But the performance is hinky; the dubbing explains it. Carano’s dialogue is already terse so San Giacomo doesn’t really build a character. And the comedy moments are a little off. But it’s fine. Carano does well. The physicality of her performance is spot on. Soderbergh builds the movie–tone-wise–around her action sequences. The chase in middle flashback informs how something in the first act present was done. Exquisite. Always exquisite.

The cameos are all good. Bandares and Douglas have the most fun, though different kinds of fun. Tatum’s good. McGregor’s good. Fassbender’s more just effective. He’s a glorified cameo too. The movie’s Carano, Tatum, and McGregor.

Under pseudonym, Soderbergh also shot and edited Haywire. Technically it’s great. There’s great editing, there’s great photography, seperate sometimes, together sometimes. He does some excellent work in Haywire. With Holmes’s music an essential support. Holmes gets to foreshadow the slight change in tone for Haywire; how the filmmaking, narrative, and music shift gears–the music goes first.

There’s a lot of awesome to Haywire. It’s just an action movie on a budget with a problematic lead performance. The film does well not drawing attention–or even acknowledging–its constraints. But they’re there nonetheless.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Edited, photographed, and directed by Steven Soderbergh; written by Lem Dobbs; music by David Holmes; production designer, Howard Cummings; produced by Gregory Jacobs; released by Relativity Media.

Starring Gina Carano (Mallory Kane), Ewan McGregor (Kenneth), Channing Tatum (Aaron), Michael Fassbender (Paul), Michael Douglas (Alex Coblenz), Antonio Banderas (Rodrigo), Anthony Brandon Wong (Jiang), Mathieu Kassovitz (Studer), and Bill Paxton (John Kane).


Super 8 (2011, J.J. Abrams)

Sometimes special effects are just a little too much, especially with CGI composites letting director Abrams set so much of Super 8 in gigantic action sequences. The film’s about a bunch of tweens in 1979 Ohio making a Super 8 zombie movie when they witness a train crash. The train crash, with train cars flying through the air and the kids running through showering debris, is the first time it seems like Abrams might have a little too much confidence in CGI composites. Especially when cinematographer Larry Fong can’t match the kids in the foreground. Actually, other way around, the CGI compositers can’t match Fong’s lighting of the kids pre-composite.

Then Abrams takes a little break from it and concentrates on the story. He’s already got most of the ground situation done. Abrams’s script is real good at brevity when it needs to be (which makes all of Noah Emmerich’s evil Air Force colonel a little much). By the train crash sequence, Abrams has established lead Joel Courtney (his mom has just died), his sidekick Riley Griffiths, the girl they both think is cute (Elle Fanning), and their second tier pals (Ryan Lee is the pyromaniac in training, Gabriel Basso is the scared one, Zach Mills is the one you forget is in the movie). Kyle Chandler plays Courtney’s dad; he’s a sheriff’s deputy who eventually has to take charge in a crisis situation. Abrams spends some time establishing the strain between Chandler and Courtney because the mom died. It’s effective stuff without ever being particularly… good. Both Chandler and Courtney give good man tears.

Fanning’s dad is town drunk Ron Eldard, who Chandler hates. Eldard doesn’t want Courtney around his daughter. Fanning’s outstanding and Courtney’s likable, so their gentle tween friendship stuff is nice. It’s not so deep it should take over the plot, which Abrams lets it for a while, but it’s nice. Abrams and Fong know how to go for emotional gut shots and they deliver, lens flares and all. And the emotional gut shot music from Michael Giacchino is a lot better than his eventual action and thriller music. Giacchino’s score by the third act is like a TV movie version of John Williams. Oh, right–Steven Spielberg is one of Super 8’s producers. The movie plays like an homage to some of his seventies and eighties films, most often Close Encounters.

The homage, while unnecessary, is kind of cute.

Turns out the Air Force is shipping something top secret and monstrous on the train and they come to town trying to reclaim it. Enter evil colonel Emmerich. None of the Air Force guys are good, however. They’re variations of evil.

For a while, the movie’s about Griffiths trying to integrate the train crash into his Super 8 project while Chandler deals with Emmerich. Then dogs start running away and people’s electronics are getting stolen. Then there’s a quarantine–sorry, not a quarantine, an evacuation. Abrams checks way too many homage boxes on his list, letting Super 8 get away from its stronger elements.

The kid stuff is good. Besides Fanning, not of the performances are great–Courtney’s good, but he’s got fairly predicable narrative tropes to work through–and Abrams’s banter material is what makes Griffiths and Lee’s performances.

Chandler’s investigation stuff is okay, not great, but it mostly runs concurrent to the better kid stuff. Their Super 8 movie, which runs over the end credits, is awesome.

When the evacuation hits, however, is when Super 8 slips. Abrams’s direction is all right just never quite good enough to get the action stuff done. Especially not with all the composited action nonsense going on around the kids. Everyone has a somewhat chill reaction to misfiring tanks, broken legs, and giant monsters, kids, adults, and soldiers alike. There’s this tedious crashed bus sequence at the beginning of the third act; it ought to be excellent, instead it’s artless. There’s no choreography to the frantic action, just CG tying everything together.

Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey’s editing, seemingly to keep things as PG–13 as possible, doesn’t help in that one bus sequence. They’re choppy instead of frantic. Otherwise the editing is undistinguished, sort of like Fong’s photography, or–at its best–Giacchino’s score. The film’s technically competent without ever excelling at anything. Abrams doesn’t need anyone to excel to get Super 8 done.

The finale is a little long, with Abrams going from set piece to set piece to set piece–not forgetting to tug at the heartstrings when he can. The heartstring tugging is the most effective–next to the humor–because the cast is so strong. Super 8’s biggest problem is Abrams not being able to balance between the characters and the plot. It’s too bad.

But Super 8’s still pretty good. It’s just nothing special… which Abrams seems to understand. His enthusiasm, for something he’s writing, directing, and co-producing, is a tad too muted.

Artificial lens flares aren’t enough.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by J.J. Abrams; director of photography, Larry Fong; edited by Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey; music by Michael Giacchino; production designer, Martin Whist; produced by Abrams, Bryan Burk, and Steven Spielberg; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Joel Courtney (Joe Lamb), Kyle Chandler (Deputy Jackson Lamb), Elle Fanning (Alice Dainard), Noah Emmerich (Colonel Nelec), Ron Eldard (Louis Dainard), Riley Griffiths (Charles Kaznyk), Ryan Lee (Cary), Gabriel Basso (Martin), Zach Mills (Preston), David Gallagher (Donny), and Glynn Turman (Dr. Woodward).


Newlyweds (2011, Edward Burns)

Newlyweds is an exceptional disappointment. Not really because of the concept–upper upper middle class New Yorker whining–or the execution–Burns has his actors speak into the camera, the characters giving interviews–but because it’s always shaking and Burns, as writer and director, always takes the worse path. Newlyweds is a what happens, at least as far as Burns’s script, when you make bad choices. Every single time.

The film opens with titular Newlyweds Burns and Caitlin FitzGerald out to brunch with her harpy sister, Marsha Dietlein, and her sister’s miserable, sexually frustrated (all because of Dietlein) husband, Max Baker. Burns goes out of his way to make Baker as gross as possible, and Dietlein as mean possible. The audience is supposed to be annoyed with Baker’s whining, but they’re supposed to hate Dietlein. She’s such a prude she doesn’t want to listen to Burns’s comic retellings of he and FitzGerald’s problematic sex life (it’s all FitzGerald’s fault, of course).

No slut shaming though, because they’re prudes. All the slut shaming is for Kerry Bishé, who shows up immediately following the introduction, as Burns’s long lost little half sister. Burns, writing himself possibly the shallowest role in the film–he really uses those into camera interviews to sidestep narrative responsibility–and Bishé had a bad dad, which has nothing to do with the film. It’s just there for immediate sympathy (not for Bishé, because she’s always being slut shamed, but for Burns). Bishé’s exceptionally traumatic visit all gets to serve to make Burns into an even better guy. Bishé’s shit out of luck.

Along the way, Baker hooks up with a twenty-three year-old girl (Daniella Pineda), Bishé hooks up with FitzGerald’s ex-husband (Dara Coleman), and chaos ensues. But it does give Burns the chance to write FitzGerald as a harpy in training and himself as a male savior. A sensitive male savior to some degree, but not much of one.

The worst thing is how much FitzGerald and Bishé appear willing to try to make this movie work, Bishé especially. And her performance is a mess. Burns and editor Janet Gaynor cut magic with every other actor in the film–Burns berating Baker is legitimately hilarious, regardless of Burns’s irresponsibility as a writer, and the walking shots (everyone basically walks from scene to scene Newlyweds, in William Rexer’s nicely lighted Manhattan) have great cuts–but Bishé’s editing is awful. Once the script gets around to revealing all her secrets, it’s like the editing is designed to make the audience sympathize less and less.

But, to some degree, everyone’s pretty good. Dietlein has a terrible, shameful part, but she plays the hell out of it. Burns has to double down on her being awful because otherwise it means he’s got the film wrong. And he does have it wrong. FitzGerald’s good, Coleman’s kind of great, Baker’s a cartoon (as opposed to everyone else’s caricatures). Even Burns, as an actor, is really pretty good. He’s mugging a little, but the rest of his cast isn’t, which provides an interesting contrast.

He just can’t seem to figure out how to direct his script, because it’s a bad script. He can make the movie–the actors work, Rexer and Gaynor are great, P.T. Walkey’s music is solid–but he can’t direct this script. There’s no relationships. Burns intentionally starts the film with these characters having no apparent foundation.

I wish Newlyweds were more pedestrian, because then it wouldn’t be such a disappointment. Burns really should’ve worked a little bit harder on the writing, because everything else is there.

I mean, if he’d actually been able to sell Baker as a legitimate character… the sky’s the limit. Though he probably wouldn’t have been able to sell him wearing a golf cap–Burns, not Baker–the whole movie. Did Burns have a golf cap company he was promoting or something?

1/4

CREDITS

Written and directed by Edward Burns; director of photography, William Rexer; edited by Janet Gaynor; music by P.T. Walkley; produced by Aaron Lubin, Burns, and Rexer; released by Tribeca Film.

Starring Edward Burns (Buzzy), Caitlin FitzGerald (Katie), Kerry Bishé (Linda), Marsha Dietlein (Marsha), Max Baker (Max), Dara Coleman (Dara), Daniella Pineda (Vanessa), and Johnny Solo (Miles).


Take Shelter (2011, Jeff Nichols)

Take Shelter is relentless; sort of an anti-Field of Dreams. Michael Shannon is a husband and father, respectable, employed member of a somewhat rural community. There’s not tons of money (wife Jessica Chastain pays for their summer vacations by selling her sewn goods) and daughter Tova Stewart has lost her hearing and needs expensive implants, but things are all right.

For about six minutes. Take Shelter runs two hours. By minute seven or eight, it’s clear there’s something really wrong. Shannon’s dreaming about the apocalypse and is compelled to build out his home’s existing storm shelter (the title’s a little cute).

It also turns out Shannon’s mom–Kathy Baker, who’s only in one scene but she’s great in it–is a paranoid schizophrenic and Shannon’s worried he’s similarly afflicted.

Director Nichols, who also wrote the script, gives Shannon a whole bunch to do. Almost eighty minutes of the film is entirely driven by toxic masculinity. During the second act, Chastain barely gets anything to do except react to Shannon. It’s too bad, because she gives an entirely solid performance in an underwritten role. Nichols gives her just enough to do to be taken seriously, then stops giving her stuff to do.

It’s the Michael Shannon show, which makes for two hours (or so) of excellent acting, but not necessarily the best way of telling the story. In the third act, Nichols has to put up or shut up as far as the MacGuffin. He doesn’t exactly forecast where it’s going–the film’s beautifully made–but there’s a real reductiveness to how he finishes it out.

Excellent photography from Adam Stone, editing from Parke Gregg, music from David Wingo.

There’s a lot of great stuff in Take Shelter (like Shea Whigham’s supporting performance), Nichols just fumbles the third act. Right after giving Shannon and Chastain an amazing scene together. It’s frustrating.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Jeff Nichols; director of photography, Adam Stone; edited by Parke Gregg; music by David Wingo; production designer, Chad Keith; produced by Tyler Davidson and Sophia Lin; released by Sony Pictures Classics.

Starring Michael Shannon (Curtis), Jessica Chastain (Samantha), Tova Stewart (Hannah), Shea Whigham (Dewart), Katy Mixon (Nat) and Robert Longstreet (Jim).


Fast Five (2011, Justin Lin), the extended version

It’s almost embarrassing how well Fast Five is made. Director Lin can’t do two things–which might be important for the film if the story mattered at all–he can’t direct heist sequences and he can’t direct car races. He doesn’t care how the heist works or how the car race works, he cares about the scene looking good. And he and cinematographer Stephen F. Windon make Five look really good.

Is there any depth to that appearance? Not much, but it’s smooth and keeps the film moving at a good pace between action sequences. And there are lots of action sequences. Whether it’s car chases or fight scenes or gun fights, Lin puts together some amazing stuff. There’s no depth to it, but who cares… there’s pretend depth.

Chris Morgan’s script goes overboard acknowledging all the Fast and the Furious movies and their characters. Only there’s no depth to any of the characters. Gal Gadot and Sung Kang flirt. Is it cute? Sure, she’s an affable supermodel and he’s likable without much acting talent. Is it good? Not really. But it passes the time.

Until an action sequence. Or the promise of one (both Lin and Morgan very carefully build expectation for a fight between Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson).

Speaking of Dwayne Johnson. He’s terrible. Laughable. But it’s actually immaterial to the film.

There’s some male bonding between Diesel and Paul Walker, but not much.

And Lin again gets a decent Walker performance.

In between amazing action scenes.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Justin Lin; screenplay by Chris Morgan, based on characters created by Gary Scott Thompson; director of photography, Stephen F. Windon; edited by Kelly Matsumoto, Fred Raskin and Christian Wagner; music by Brian Tyler; production designer, Peter Denham; produced by Neal H. Moritz, Vin Diesel and Michael Fottrell; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Vin Diesel (Dominic Toretto), Paul Walker (Brian O’Conner), Jordana Brewster (Mia), Tyrese Gibson (Roman), Ludacris (Tej), Matt Schulze (Vince), Sung Kang (Han), Gal Gadot (Gisele), Tego Calderon (Leo), Don Omar (Santos), Dwayne Johnson (Hobbs), Elsa Pataky (Elena), Michael Irby (Zizi) and Joaquim de Almeida (Reyes).


Perfect Sense (2011, David Mackenzie)

Perfect Sense goes out of its way to be an atypical disaster movie. Director Mackenzie and writer Kim Fupz Aakeson’s only significant acknowledgement of genre standards is having one of the protagonists pursue a solution. Except it’s never clear what epidemiologist Eva Green actually does–her job is clear, but what she does in pursuit of a solution is never clear.

Because, instead, Perfect Sense focuses on her relationship with the guy who works at the restaurant near her apartment, Ewan McGregor. Aaekson’s script uses the restaurant as the metaphor for what’s going on in the world as everyone slow but surely loses their senses. Literally.

Mackenzie and editor Jake Roberts do these montages, narrated by Green’s character (but not her), to show world events. They’re beautifully cut, precisely presented. Everything in Perfect Sense is precise. Its ninety minute run time is also essential–so much information is presented, but every small moment needs to carry weight. The viewer can’t be left to wander. Mackenzie controls the experience.

The film simultaneously has to be a Green and Macgregor’s romantic drama while still taking into account these apocalyptic plot points. Only those plot points can’t be overdone because Perfect Sense can’t appear constrained. The meticulousness of the film starts long before Mackenzie’s avoiding action set pieces.

The photography from Giles Nuttgens is fantastic–and Roberts’s editing on the other scenes is great as well. Max Richter’s music is spot on.

And Green and Macgregor are wonderful.

It’s deliberate, considered and successful.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by David Mackenzie; written by Kim Fupz Aakeson; director of photography, Giles Nuttgens; edited by Jake Roberts; music by Max Richter; production designer, Tom Sayer; produced by Gillian Berrie, Tomas Eskilsson and Malte Grunert; released by IFC Films.

Starring Ewan McGregor (Michael), Eva Green (Susan), Ewen Bremner (James), Stephen Dillane (Stephen), Denis Lawson (Boss), Anamaria Marinca (Street Performer), Alastair Mackenzie (Virologist), Katy Engels (Narrator) and Connie Nielsen (Jenny).


Immortals (2011, Tarsem Singh)

The best thing about Immortals is probably Stephen Dorff. He gives the most consistent performance and has something akin to a reasonable character arc. No one else in the film has that courtesy.

The film, which has the Greek gods reluctantly influencing the life of mortals, makes a big deal out of freewill and the ability for people to develop. Luke Evans–as the worst Zeus outside of a car commercial–wants mortal Henry Cavill to rise to lead his people. Of course, these people are a little unclear. The script’s not just awful in terms of dialogue and character–evil villain Mickey Rourke has more moments of tenderness than anyone else in the picture, which is intention and utterly misguided–it’s also moronic in terms of plotting. There are useless characters (Joseph Morgan in a terrible performance as a traitor) and useless plot twists.

Of course, director Singh doesn’t do much good either. He concentrates on the physical beauty of the film (whether a oil slicked, shirtless Cavill or Freida Pinto–whose eye shadow never comes off–as his love interest) because it’s Greek gods, right? Things should be beautiful. Only not a lot of them are physical. It’s all CG and it’s okay CG but it’s clear these actors aren’t moving in these spaces.

Maybe if Singh could direct action or if he could direct for spectacle (he goes in way too close). Or if Trevor Morris’s score brought some grandeur.

Immortals is a terrible big, little movie.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Tarsem Singh; written by Charley Parlapanides and Vlas Parlapanides; director of photography, Brendan Galvin; edited by Wyatt Jones, Stuart Levy and David Rosenbloom; music by Trevor Morris; production designer, Tom Foden; produced by Gianni Nunnari, Mark Canton and Ryan Kavanaugh; released by Relativity Media.

Starring Henry Cavill (Theseus), Mickey Rourke (King Hyperion), Stephen Dorff (Stavros), Freida Pinto (Phaedra), Luke Evans (Zeus), John Hurt (Old Man), Joseph Morgan (Lysander), Anne Day-Jones (Aethra), Greg Bryk (The Monk) and Isabel Lucas (Athena).


Moneyball (2011, Bennett Miller)

Moneyball is the traditional American sports movie with all the excitement sucked out of the accomplishment. The excitement isn’t gone because of the story–about how the Oakland A’s applied a statistical theory to how to win baseball games, but more because director Miller wants to make sure everyone is paying attention to the symbolism in his filmmaking.

Miller’s style is generic, competent important mainstream filmmaking. He has a minimalist Mychael Danna, he has a big movie star (Brad Pitt) playing a guy who didn’t make it, he has a cast-against-type sidekick for Pitt (Jonah Hill), he’s even got Robin Wright as Pitt’s ex-wife. I didn’t realize she was in the cast, but when her single scene came on, I knew it was her before she got a close-up. Why? Because Moneyball is that type of movie.

And the first hour, maybe hour and a half, moves beautifully. Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay makes everything–all the baseball business, all the statistics–nicely digestible. It’s a very smooth film for that first ninety minutes, with some great editing from Christopher Tellefsen.

But then Miller realizes he’s making an American sports movie and so he has to do his variation on the big game moment. But because Moneyball isn’t “just” a sports movie, everything goes on and on and on after that moment. It meanders when it needs to come together and the ending is way too obvious.

Still, it’s perfectly acceptable mainstream “thinking” movie stuff.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Bennett Miller; written by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin, based on a story by Stan Chervin and the book by Michael Lewis; director of photography, Wally Pfister; edited by Christopher Tellefsen; music by Mychael Danna; production designer, Jess Gonchor; produced by Michael De Luca, Rachael Horovitz and Brad Pitt; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Brad Pitt (Billy Beane), Jonah Hill (Peter Brand), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Art Howe), Robin Wright (Sharon), Chris Pratt (Scott Hatteberg) and Stephen Bishop (David Justice).


Frankenstein (2011, Danny Boyle), the second version

Maybe Danny Boyle isn’t the right guy to direct a stage play of Frankenstein. When he goes to close-ups–this Frankenstein being a filmed performance, with a lot of overhead shots and close-ups to make it somewhat filmic (along with terrible music choices)–he doesn’t seem to recognize some of his actors aren’t really doing enough emoting for a close-up.

Jonny Lee Miller does fine emoting. Miller plays the Creature. Miller’s captivating. Phenomenal. Breathtaking. Every nice adjective one could come up with. Even when he’s got some really weak dialogue, Miller nails it.

Nick Dear’s play–loosely adapted from the novel with some familiar movie details thrown in–gives the Creature a lot to do. It doesn’t give Frankenstein much of a character, but Benedict Cumberbatch doesn’t put much into the performance so it evens out. Otherwise, he just stands around waiting for Miller to finish something amazing.

There are some cute nods to the Universal films, set design, a really cute music one. Also the humor. There’s a lot of humor in Frankenstein, presumably to compensate for the darkness. Except Dear (and Boyle in his filming choices) go real dark. So why not own it?

Well, they don’t own their good choices so why should own their bad ones. Bad choices like George Harris as Frankenstein’s father. He’s awful.

Naomie Harris is excellent as Elizabeth though. She and Miller’s scene together is heart-wrenching.

Cumberbatch’s disinterest aside, the script’s the problem. But Miller gloriously overcomes it.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Danny Boyle; play by Nick Dear, based on the novel by Mary Shelley; music by Karl Hyde and Rick Smith; released by National Theatre Live.

Starring Jonny Lee Miller (The Creature), Benedict Cumberbatch (Victor Frankenstein), Naomie Harris (Elizabeth Lavenza), George Harris (M. Frankenstein), Ella Smith (Clarice), Mark Armstrong (Rab), John Stahl (Ewan) and Karl Johnson (de Lacey).


Frankenstein (2011, Danny Boyle), the first version

Maybe the National Theatre Live just recorded a cruddy night for the Benedict Cumberbatch as the Creature performance of Frankenstein. Maybe there was some immediate reason that night to explain why Cumberbatch’s performance consists of little more than speaking when inhaling and occasionally giving an angry look.

It’s not like Nick Dear’s play is good enough to compensate for a bad performance in the lead. The first act, introducing Cumberbatch’s monster to the world, is tedious. There’s no chemistry between Cumberbatch and Karl Johnson as his mentor. I won’t even get into Cumberbatch’s lack of glee during the gleeful discovery of the world sequence.

But then Jonny Lee Miller shows up and the play gets a whole lot more tolerable. He’s exhausted, tortured, selfish, shallow. He and Naomie Harris are excellent together, especially during the comic relief portions. Not so much during the dramatic parts, just because Dear’s script is really weak on them… but on maybe half of them.

Cumberbatch is best during a few of his scenes with Miller. Not all of them, not even the most important ones–Dear’s lukewarm ending is even worse since Cumberbatch runs the scene. But some of them. Maybe it’s just Miller bringing actual energy to the production.

Thanks to Dear’s writing–Miller has to fight for good moments as Frankenstein, while Cumberbatch wastes all the good ones for the Creature–there’s only so far this production can go. It’s unfortunate, since Harris and Miller do some excellent work.

Otherwise, it’s exceedingly pointless.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Danny Boyle; play by Nick Dear, based on the novel by Mary Shelley; music by Karl Hyde and Rick Smith; released by National Theatre Live.

Starring Benedict Cumberbatch (The Creature), Jonny Lee Miller (Victor Frankenstein), Naomie Harris (Elizabeth Lavenza), George Harris (M. Frankenstein), Ella Smith (Clarice), Mark Armstrong (Rab), John Stahl (Ewan) and Karl Johnson (de Lacey).


Scroll to Top