Monday, May 25, 2009

143) Hancock (2008)

143) Hancock (2008) Dir: Peter Berg Date Released: July 2008 Date Seen: May 24th, 2009 Rating: 3.25/5

The theatrical cut of writers Vince Gilligan and Vincent Ngo's Hancock is the kind of mess that I admire but must begrudgingly admit is not anywhere near what it should have been. The major twist that begins the film's third act is dry-heaves inducingly dizzying in that it does not feel like it belongs in the story that the last 55 minutes spent setting up. In fact, a handful of elements in the final 35 minutes of the film feel ill-prepared, including the film's minor villain (the criminally marginalized Eddie Marsan). Gilligan and Ngo make the near-fatal mistake of confusing necessary build-up for extraneous filler and vice versa in the case of Marsan's character. But that's partly why Hancock is such an impressive mess. 

In their script's shortcomings, which may or may not be due to creative tampering from higher-ups, Gilligan and Ngo have made the admirable mistake of assuming the audience can keep up with their sprawling story. The elements that would make the film's two seemingly mismatched main plotlines--the rehabilitation of Hancock (Will Smith) and the curious attraction between him and Mary Embrey (Charlize Theron)--are there but are presented in a subdued and, for a big-budget summer movie, rather subtle ways. The attraction between Mary and Hancock was arguably always there in the couple's furtive looks but it's kept relatively low-key by necessity because the revelation about who they really are would not provide the shock that it's meant to.

Still, the shock it does provide is not the kind one would want to usher in an, up to that point, well-paced and emotionally satisfying film's messy third act. The unpleasant shock of finding out where Gilligan and Ngo want to go with the material is inevitable considering the massive scope of the film they intended to deliver. They try to address too many different aspects of what makes a super-hero human and in their refusal to save some material for a sequel, spreads themselves too thin. 

The resolution of Mary and Hancock's relationship problems may tie together a lot of Hancock's central emotional issues--namely the self-loathing caused by his loneliness--but it does not take into account several key factors (three that come to mind are A) how does Jason Bateman's Ray Embrey feel about this betrayal B) what the eagle emblem represents to Hancock and C) who the smaller figure in Hancock's cave drawings is). Even within the context of such a tantalizingly epic finale, Gilligan and Ngo deserve praise for delivering, as a segment unto itself, a very satisfying finale. They also deserve a good scolding because as it is, Hancock's just an intriguing mess.

Note: Will Smith's non-starter of a performance bugged me. Part of the reason I feel short-changed by the film is because I had a very hard time believing Smith when he's talking about how lonely he is. He brought none of the depth he exhibited in I Am Legend or even showed fleetingly in The Pursuit of Happyness, content to sacrifice nothing for a role that demanded so much more. Without that spark, all I saw was Will Smith as Will Smith, a celebrity that should reasonably have no trouble ingratiating himself to the public unlike Hancock, who needs a lot more than just a PR makeover to rehabilitate his image.

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