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by Bill Gibron

25 Dec 2008


David Fincher is a god. Not a lesser deity, mind you, or some manner of false filmmaking prophet. No, this inside outsider may have gotten his start in music videos, and suffered at the hands of a disgruntled studio while making his directorial debut (the oft debated Alien3), but since those uneasy early days, he’s been nothing short of sensational. With a creative output claiming one masterwork (Se7en, The Game) after another (Fight Club, Zodiac), only mainstream commercial acceptance has truly alluded him (unless you count Panic Room). All that might change with his Brad Pitt vehicle The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Loosely based on the short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, this may look like a blatant attempt to grab awards season consideration. Instead, it’s another notable notch in the man’s amazing auteur oeuvre. 

Born into a turn of the century New Orleans, orphaned Benjamin Button is blessed/cursed with an unusual malady. As an infant, he looks nearly 90 years old. As a toddler, he’s in his ‘80s. As he gets older, his body ages in reverse, decades dropping off as the experiences pile up. While living in a nursing home with his caregiver mother Queenie, he meets the granddaughter of another resident. Her name is Daisy, and Benjamin is instantly smitten. As time moves along, he holds onto his flame, even as he joins the merchant marines, aids in World War II, has an affair with a British woman (who wants to swim the English Channel), and returns home to Louisiana where he reconnects with his dying father. Yet all along, all Benjamin can think about is Daisy. Her career as a ballerina cut short and her options limited, she soon finds herself drawn into her new partner’s curious case. It will be a relationship that inspires many wonderful memories, a lot of adventure, a few heartaches, and some significant deathbed secrets.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is not a movie made for a single viewing. At nearly three hours in length, its detail and depth become distant and unclear. There are times when it looks like director Fincher is operating under a delusion of self-indulgence, basic camera tricks and CG deception taking over where narrative drive and clear characterization would suffice. But then the premise kicks in, an idea so novel and yet so simple that it often threatens to spin out of control. But this is where Fincher shines - bringing the outrageous and the outsized back into scale with the rest of his vision. As a result, Benjamin Button stands as the kind of filmmaking achievement that formidable French auteur theory was meant to celebrate. Without Fincher behind the scenes, this would be an occasionally interesting, often irritating trifle. With him, it’s some manner of masterpiece.

It also helps to have amazing actors inhabit this world, and you can’t get much better than Pitt (as the title entity), Cate Blanchett (as lifetime love Daisy), Taraji P. Henson as Benjamin’s adopted momma, and Julia Ormond as bookend offspring Caroline. Interspersed amongst the main threads are remarkable moments from Jared Harris, Tilda Swinton, and Elias Koteas. Each one accents Fincher’s amazing images with their own unique take on humanity and honesty. At its center, Benjamin Button is about the truth - the truth about living, the truth about dying, the truth about who you are, and the truth about who others find us to be. All throughout the film, secrets and stories are revealed, each one clarifying the people who populate them. At the end, the denouements build to a shattering emotional epiphany that ties everything together magnificently.

Certainly, the screenplay by Eric Roth mirrors his Oscar winning adaptation of Forrest Gump, even down to a central symbol for birth/resurrection. But unlike that Robert Zemeckis fable, spun out of Southern comforting and a great deal of Tom Hanks definitive drawl, Fincher finds the darker side to this material. After all, when was the last time you saw a mainstream movie deal with the impending death of an infant. Remember, Benjamin ages backwards, so the very youthful biology the industry tends to senseless celebrate actually becomes the harbinger for the arriving Grim Reaper. This is juxtaposed against Blanchett’s aged façade, holed up in a New Orleans hospital as Katrina is about to hit. The concept of placing the plot within the horrific events of 2005 may be locational happenstance, but it does work to underline the overall theme of life’s fascinating fragility.

In fact, the physical elements of Benjamin Button stand out as the film’s creative finest achievement. The early stages of Pitt’s “elderly” youth have an eerie provocation, while his last act teen façade is achingly Adonis-like in look. Blanchett gets an equally effective make-over, her turn as an adolescent ballerina and ‘50s fashion plate remarkable in their picture perfect, almost porcelain purity. Fincher forces the audience to rethink their previous notions of age and vitality all throughout the film. When Benjamin visits a brothel for the first time, it’s not as some dirty old man. Instead, Pitt plays the moment just right, using raging teen hormones to accent his character’s withered looks. With the movie set inside a nursing home, there’s a lot of jokes made at the expense of the infirmed and enfeebled (one man gets seven silent movie slapstick sequences, illustrating the number of times he’s been hit by lightning). But there is plenty of dignity here as well, times when what we become throughout the decades is discussed and redefined.

Yet in the end, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is really about celebrating your existence. It’s a statement on how life lived - in any order - can be taken for granted and gone in an instant. As they move through the years, trying to connect and complete their unending love, Benjamin and Daisy discover something even more shocking about their interpersonal emotions: they can survive anything. Only time treats the couple like an interchangeable pair of enigmas, each owning their own unusual approach to being and being together. The wistful qualities of the narrative, matched with Fincher’s frighteningly magnificent direction, turns something gimmicky into something grand. When the word ‘epic’ is tossed around, it’s an effort like that of those of all involved in Benjamin Button that supply a perfect illustration. Destined to grow in critical acclaim as the year’s go by, this represents Fincher at his finest - and gods rarely find a way to top themselves.

by Bill Gibron

24 Dec 2008


Those of us who lived through it will never forget how it unraveled before our unbelieving eyes. As each new day brought another revelation, as White House damage control caused as much controversy as calm, as names like Woodward, Bernstein, Halderman, Dean, Liddy, and Ervin became part of our political nomenclature, only one word - Watergate - would remain synonymous with the entire Nixon era scandal. So it was with great interest that we revisited the darkest moment in American history on 19 May 1977 when British journalist David Frost scored the exclusive interview with the then disgraced President himself. Instead of bombshells, however, we got an oral history of the ex-leaders many accomplishments. Even the supposed coerced admission was half-baked and hearted.

But not now. Now, we get the power of the motion picture artform turning history into a remarkable bit of faux fictionalized payback. With his corpse cold and in the ground some 14 years now, and a great deal of Washington handwringing behind us, UK playwright Peter Morgan has taken his penchant for revising the past to create Frost/Nixon. A stage hit both abroad and here at home, it follows a failing Frost as he tries to find a way to jumpstart his sagging journalist credentials. Seen by many as a celeb-utante info-tainer, he was desperate for some smidgen of seriousness. Getting Nixon to talk seemed like the logical way to go - and since no one else was willing to pay for the privilege, Frost put his money where his mouth would soon be.

Of course, knowing little except what he saw on television, he grabbed a couple of consultants with agendas of their own. Bob Zelnick, Washington insider and lawyer wanted the truth to be told. College professor and Nixon naysayer James Reston Jr. just wanted the bastard hung out to dry. Together, they meticulously researched the possible Q&A while Frost worked out the details. Going head to head with ex-Marine Chief of Staff Jack Brennan, an approved plan was proposed. Frost would get four interview “specials”, each one focusing on a different subject. Nixon would sit down for 12 separate sessions, with Watergate not taking up more than 25% of the final product. While Zelnick and Reston complained, Frost accepted.

There’s much more to the story, a lot of it focusing on Frost and his personal stake in the Nixon material. Paying for most of it out of his pocket, and taking the heat from those who thought he was outmatched, outmanned, and out maneuvered, this was a true leap of faith. It’s from a Frost-ccentric vantage point that Ron Howard offers up his take on the Morgan material, opening up the play while keeping the claustrophobic feel of the two actors’ one-on-one. Utilizing the original theatrical cast - a terrific Michael Sheen as Frost, a fine Frank Langella as Nixon - and complementing them with a wonderful set of supporting players including Oliver Platt, Sam Rockwell, Kevin Bacon, and a surprise moment from former Bad Seed Patty McCormack (as a petrified, predatory Pat Nixon), we get the best this kind of truth stretching can provide.

Yet there’s something here that doesn’t feel right. There’s a weirdness watching events etched indelibly in your brain, especially when they play out in a slightly off-kilter, pro posthumous re-examination manner. Make no mistake about it - Frost/Nixon is engaging cinematic theater, nothing more, and a great deal less. Its import offered up via grandstanding, showboating, and inferred integrity. In dealing with what is, perhaps, the most monumental issue of mistrust ever to try and undermine American democracy, history is reduced to a series of humorless confrontations, each one meant to signify something beyond its actual weight. Articles have been written about the factual inaccuracies in Morgan’s script, but that’s really beside the point. This may be the first good film that feels a necessity to tweak the truth in order to make the inevitable more dramatic, and cinematically palatable.

Clearly, we are supposed to see Frost and Nixon as cut from the same careerist cloth. Politics and performing are mirrored here, accented by director Howard’s Me Decade familiarity. But where the ex-President is a well worn known quantity, the UK jive master is not, and Frost frequently steals the narrative attention away from his Executive Branch quarry. Sheen is particularly brilliant as the mope behind the manic mask, a consistent façade of optimism covering up the flop sweat. We become so engrossed in Frost’s failed occupation, his party time disco diversions taking precious attention away from his supposed serious journalism that we wait for the moment when it all implodes. It comes during a late night phone call with a drunk Nixon, motivational clarifications arriving in spurts of spoken epiphanies. At the end, the former leader of the free world is sunk, having given over his hand to man who simply needed a real reason to succeed.

This is not to say that Langella is bad, he’s just not the Tricky Dick we remember. There’s a passing physical resemblance and an occasional triumph of cadence, but this is a Nixon that’s too much of a fame whore, too hungry for a chance to clear his name. There is none of the aggressive arrogance we’ve come to expect from the man who uttered the infamous line “I am not a crook”. Langella just doesn’t look or act like the kind of Commander in Chief who would make an enemies list or sling epithets at fellow Washington insiders. And at the end, when a defeated Nixon sounds a last gasp wish for some manner of humanity, he’s given the good old boy brush-off, leading to the one sour note in the entire film. Howard should be commended for keeping this freewheeling inversion of the truth from constantly flying off the handle. Instead, he devises a powerful drama out of good dialogue, great performances, and a splash of celebrated synchronicity.

It may not be enough for old school apologists who think our 37th President got a really raw deal, and someone like the late Hunter S. Thompson is probably spinning around in his grave over the “one confession and out” conclusion to the plotline. But make no mistake about it - Frost/Nixon is a fine film, destined to be considered among 2008’s most powerful and provocative. But unlike All the President’s Men, which used Watergate as a backdrop for explaining investigative journalism and the rise of the reporter as an important part of the Constitutional process, there is no compelling context here - just two men, each wanting a piece of the limelight, scrambling to see who will succeed. The results are undoubtedly entertaining. The truth, as usual, has no place in such a panacea. 

by Bill Gibron

24 Dec 2008


As long as they had Paris, they had hope. Actually, as frustrated suburban housewife April Wheeler would later reveal, it didn’t have to be the famed City of Light. Anywhere other than the stifling outskirts of reality known as Connecticut would have been just fine. When they first met, April and her husband Frank connected like all post-war couples did. She was lured to his solider boy sense of overseas adventure. He saw stability and blossoming homespun sexuality. Together, the formed the seemingly perfect veneer of American Dream determination. But somewhere along the route to their white picket fence home on Revolutionary Road, the Wheelers got sidetracked. The resulting diversion left them shattered, disenchanted, and barely alive.

Thus we have the setup for Richard Yates devastating novel named after the infamous avenue, and Sam Mendes return to post-Jarhead prominence. We follow April and Frank as they meet, make love, get married, and take a home outside the sprawling metropolis of Manhattan. After years living the nuclear fantasy, she feels trapped. Relocating to Europe will be the spark that reignites their previous passion, and at first, her husband agrees. But as he falls into an easy affair with a member of the typing pool, and sees his fortunes at working failing upward, Frank no longer “feels” France. Instead, he wants to stay in the states and have another baby. This devastates April, who must resort to extreme measures to keep her own hopes and dreams alive. 

Apparently, in order to enjoy Mendes take on Revolutionary Road, you have to (a) have never read the Yates’ book it is based on, (b) never watched an episode of AMC’s au courant revisionist hipster drama Mad Men, and (c) believe the filmmaker’s previous Oscar winning effort, American Beauty, was not some award season anomaly. Add in the “isn’t that cute” conceit of having three members of James Cameron’s Titanic back onscreen (Kate Winslet, Leonardo DiCaprio and Kathy Bates) and the pedigree everyone involved provides, and you’re either drunk on the idea of the film, or failing to see the true mess that Mendes has made. Actually, none of this is true. In a season which sees underage sex with war criminals celebrated and old racists made warm and fuzzy, Revolutionary Road stands as a bold bit of filmmaking. It’s not always pleasant, but then again, neither is life.

At its core, Mendes has made a movie about why couples fall apart. This isn’t some new or novel statement about how Eisenhower era marrieds managed the ennui of a sheltered, socially acceptable existence. It’s not the precursor to the Swinging ‘60s or the rationale for the upcoming sexual revolution, civil rights movement, or any other protracted activism. Instead, what screenwriter Justin Haythe gets out of Yates’ book is the basis for how love leaks out and slowly dissipates. With bravura work from Winslet and DiCaprio, almost every conversation between April and Frank devolves into a shouting match of unspoken horrors and simmering dissatisfaction. Many of these sequences leave the viewer breathless, their truth and honesty about as soul searching and bearing as cinema gets.

But there is more than just arguments here. Revolutionary Road stages the preamble for a kind of upheaval, even if it isn’t strongly social or political. Within each person lies a series of disappointments and unrealized dreams. Mendes makes this the nucleus of his film, following two people as they destroy who they want to be in order to preserve what they think they are. We never really see the Wheelers as a family unit. Kids are always shuttered to the side (oddly enough, their first appearance onscreen is shocking since Mendes doesn’t portray Frank or April as parent material) and friendly neighborhood get-togethers become the fodder for that night’s bickering. Neither partner wants to work - April’s pipe dream derives from the “outrageous” wages paid to European civil servants while Frank has to “find” himself. But the need to conform matched with the desire to drop out sets up something seismic in their household. When the façade cracks, the quake is truly crushing.

In a movie overloaded with amazing performances, three stand out. DiCaprio has finally “grown up” onscreen, dropping any of this youthful primping and performance preening to become a true, legitimate leading ‘man’. He looks perfectly comfortable in his gray flannel suit situation. Winslet is radiant as a bohemian broken by the Stepford sense of purpose around her. She can make a happy home, but would much rather have a fulfilled life. Balancing said need within the parameters of a patriarchal three martini and beefsteak setting is the actress’s trained tour de force. She is simply stunning at times. And then there’s Bates, bringing down her dowager immenseness to play opinionated if outside. She’s the kind of fussy, frightened mouse/spouse who talks a good game, but can’t keep her own business tidy.

Speaking of her issues, Bates is blessed with a schizophrenic son who speaks as the forward thinking voice of a future blank generation. Played with Oscar worthy aplomb by an amazing Michael Shannon, John Givings is a nonconformist in every facet of the word. During a critical sequence in the woods, a walk with April and Frank turns into something so remarkable that you feel your heart literally skip a beat - and John’s line about life is enough to start an entire subculture all its own. It’s these kinds of nuanced bits that seem to fall freely from Mendes vision. When we see Frank shacking up with his temporary secretary, her Bettie Page pertness reminds us of the erotic explosion to come, and his coworkers cut a swath across the entire dynamic of last gasp machismo.

Yet it’s the overall interaction and intenseness of Revolutionary Road that turns it from a neverending episode of the Bickersons into motion picture mastery. The fights between our main characters do come across as cruel and manipulative, but they ring with a kind of brash authenticity that’s hard to shake. And even as the storyline slow burns toward its tragic ending, inevitable and yet inexcusable, we drink in the directorial beauty and pitch perfect performances. Mendes may be the current revisionist whipping boy for a geek nation convinced that Beauty beat the rest of 2000’s competition based on some manner of industry fix. Yet it’s impossible to deny his execution here. From cast to conclusion, Revolutionary Road is fate funneled through a true artist’s muse. It’s one of 2008’s very best.

And by the way, Paris would not have saved the Wheelers. Nothing could.

by Bill Gibron

23 Dec 2008


World War II remains the ultimate cinematic backdrop for elements both within and outside the conflict’s control. On the one hand, there are so many fascinating and intricate parts to the global confrontation that Hollywood can easily extract any number of compelling stories. In addition, the battle lines are so clearly drawn between good (the Allies) and evil (the Axis) that the metaphysical clashes tend to match the actual combats themselves. Perhaps this is why the new Tom Cruise/Bryan Singer effort Valkyrie seems to strange. It offers up an initially interesting story that’s ending is obvious, and then tries to paint a group of high minded Nazis in a sympathetic - nay heroic - light. Fact or fiction, it’s a confusing combination that only works halfway.

Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg considers himself a good German. He also considers himself a lax Nazi. Hating where the party is going, especially in light of issues both political and person, he wants to help the Fatherland. As a result he is drawn into a plot to kill the current leader, Adolf Hitler, and replace him with an exiled member of the nation’s elite. In order to do so, von Stauffenberg needs a pair of accomplices. General Friedrich Olbricht will help with the bureaucratic ends, and his immediate superior General Friedrich Fromm (himself unhappy about the Reich’s war strategy) is willing to turn a blind military eye. All they need is a plan, and it comes in the form of Project Valkyrie. Under the executive order, should anything happen to the Fuhrer, the army is to step in and maintain order. Von Stauffenberg decides to use this plan as a means of assisting in an all out coup. Now, all they need to do is assassinate Hitler…

For the first 50 minutes or so, Valkyrie feels like your standard above-average espionage thriller. It takes your typical recruited protagonist, puts him into a group of well meaning but disorganized individuals, figures out a way to get everyone on the same page, and then sets the various conspiracy cogs through their clockwork, suspense-filled paces. We watch in patent disbelief as men within Hitler’s own ranks determine the fate of their Fuhrer, and marvel at how easy their planned assassination will be. Indeed, a great deal of the title strategy (built on a policy that allows an elite corps of troops to arrest and detain the SS) is built on orders, communication, assumptions, and a strict sense of loyalty. Such a scheme could not work today. Technology and an innate suspiciousness would keep the people in power long after any bombshell - true or false - had dropped.

Still, when working with this material, Bryan Singer shows some tension building acumen. As Valkyrie moves from moment to moment, creating scenarios destined to come back to haunt our characters later, we feel ourselves slowly shifting toward the edge of our seat. When Cruise finally makes his way to Hitler’s country bunker, his briefcase loaded with some Third Reich erasing TNT, we are truly taken over with anticipation. We want to see how all this plays out, if Cruise will be captured, how the rest of the plan is executed, and oddly enough, what will bring about the attempted coup’s collapse. Since we know Hitler survives (though the movie tries to trick us into questioning such a conclusion), we sense the next big reveal will be how these well considered and best laid plans unravel.

Unfortunately, the last act of Valkyrie is its very weakest link. It’s like watching Seven Days in May meshed with a great deal of supposed historic happenstance. Without giving much away, the success of the overthrow depends on how the Bureau of Communication handles the incoming flood of material from both Cruise’s and Hitler’s camps. If we are to believe the screenplay, it all came down to a gut check by a couple of middle management flunkies. Had they made a different call, everything we know about Nazi Germany may have been vastly different. In the meantime, we are forced to watch actors of highly distinct caliber play phone tag, each one trying to secure a section of the country for their future leader-in-waiting (a dull Terrance Stamp).

Granted, this seems like the way events resolved themselves. Most political power struggles are not gun battles with bullets blazing by the key players, and Singer has a problem matching the intricacies of the film’s first sections with these events. But Valkyrie knew this originally, and it doesn’t seem phased about going out with a whimper. Cruise even tones down his jackboot machismo, allowing small layers of doubt to cloud his otherwise iron cross resolve. The former A-lister is very good here, avoiding any bad German accenting by employing that by now formulaic slow dissolve from native language to English. He’s also good at playing the center of a rising storm, especially when given the floundering favors of Brit bystanders Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, and Kenneth Branagh.

But the harshest criticism lands at Singer’s doorstep. He’s like a great athlete who has no finishing move. The Usual Suspects is often remembered for its brain-busting twist, not for how said denouement was directed. Singer still fumbles material that should soar (the opening attack of Cruise and his men in Africa), while handling routine scenes in an amazing, unexpected manner. This is especially true of a meeting between Von Stauffenberg and the enigmatic Hitler where Wagner becomes key. They sequence crackles with a series of ominous implications that are hard to shake. But once everything turns to phone calls and map marking, Valykrie looses its ferocity. Instead, it turns typical and unspectacular. And of course, there’s the whole “good Nazi” underpinning to confuse things further.

If you don’t mind the fluctuation in focus, if the tripwire midsection can get your through the labored last act, Valkyrie will be a solid success. It will hit all the right marks while portraying heroism from a unique and somewhat unusual perspective. Historians may argue over the accuracy, and those demanding as much bang for their buck as possible will be underwhelmed at best. Still, there’s enough interest and intrigue here to carry across a substantive mainstream entertainment. Trying to get Americans to buy the enemy as noble is never an easy proposition, and some may say that focusing on Von Stauffenberg and his exploits is a losing cinematic proposition. But Valkyrie manages to just rise above such criticism. It’s passable, if far from perfect.

by Bill Gibron

23 Dec 2008


In cinema, the shelf life for style is apparently three years. Back in 2005, critics were beside themselves praising the monochrome magic of Robert Rodriguez’s astonishing take on Frank Miller’s graphic novel noir, Sin City. From its hardboiled nostalgia to its star studded speaking order, it was seen as the next step in technology tweaking traditional storytelling. Now, a mere 36 months later, messageboard nation is ready to tear Miller’s solo project, an adaptation of his Will Eisner comic strip update of The Spirit, a new arthole. Where once things were fresh and flashy, they’re now called overly familiar. Where the comic book god was once praised as a new fangled visionary, this cheesy, campy creation is about to be crucified - and for no good reason, actually.

Central City is a metropolis awash in crime and corruption. Chief among the felonious perpetrators is scientific genius and murderous madman The Octopus. Along with his right hand henchwoman Silken Floss, he’s manipulated his own DNA to make himself invincible. Now he wants the fabled blood of Heracles to become immortal. The only thing stopping him is a pair of unnecessary advisories. One is Sand Saref, an international thief who is desperate for the fabled Golden Fleece that Jason and the Argonauts sought. The other is The Spirit, a masked crimefighter with a lot of questions about his own strange healing powers and a past as a member of the police force. Not even his doctor gal pal Ellen Dolan can figure him out. Naturally, all of these dispirit characters will come face to face when both the blood, and the fleece, turn up.

Sure, it plays like a forgotten chapter in Miller’s continuing flirtation with old ‘40s cinema. Sure, it’s so over the top and outrageous that it begs to be mocked and ridiculed. Granted, Gabriel Macht is not the kind of marquee name (or recognizable face) in the lead actor realm that one relies on to hold a film together, and choosing him requires a leap of faith on the filmmaker’s part that’s hard for any audience to swallow. And just because you put a bevy of supposedly hot babes in your female-ccentric movie doesn’t mean the results will be sexy, captivating, or alluring. So what, exactly, saves The Spirit? What keeps it from becoming an irredeemable bomb ala Battlefield Earth, The Love Guru, or any other predestined stinker?

Three things, actually, and none have to do with Miller’s middling direction. Copping a millions moves from a half century of Tinsel Town trickery, there are only glimpses of the familiar graphic novel brilliance we’ve come to expect from one of his projects. There’s none of 300‘s slo-mo gore zoning, or City‘s slam bang Mickey Spillane on speed bravado. The color scheme stays squarely in the old school dramatics of black and white, and Miller’s eye tends toward the hero shot more than any meaningful moviemaking sensibility. Indeed, The Spirit could best be described as a series of static “wows” followed up by limited or almost nonexistent narrative needs. This is a movie that assumes a lot of plotline prescience. Miller clearly expects that the audience doesn’t want everything spelled out for them, so he simply tosses away the entire primer and goes bonkers.

What does work is Samuel L. Jackson’s bad ass kitsch as The Octopus. Sure, his version of the Spirit’s arch-nemesis is about a billion miles away from the character’s origins, but the shape-shifting savagery of his villain is a bad joke joy to behold. Just seeing this bad mofo in Nazi drag is worth the price of admission. So is his disconnected accomplice, Silken Floss. As played by Scarlett Johannsson as a half serious, half sketch comedy creation, this mannered moll is the perfect real world balance to Miller’s overreaching hypereality. Then there’s the dialogue, an amalgamation of every private dick diary entry meshed with tons of treble entendres. The result is like listening to a Depression era radio broadcast born out of a madman’s unproduced memoirs. There are times when you literally laugh with and at the movie for being so audaciously cornball.

And then there’s Gabriel Macht as the title character. Guaranteed to generate as much positive geek buzz as negative, he’s an interesting combination of naiveté and spree killer. It’s clear that The Spirit takes his crusade seriously, and during his pre-Octopus stand-offs, his manner is brusque, cruel, and sometimes rather heartless. He’s also a lug with the ladies, easily winning them over only to screw them in the less corporeal meaning of the term. While more or less an unknown, Macht makes all these divergent personality traits work. We never once doubt the Spirit as a hero, a heal, a protector and a pariah. It’s one of Miller’s main strengths that his leads comes across as flawed if still formidable. Even with his old school sarcasm, there is something noble about this vigilante’s cause.

Yet none of this will matter to a fanbase still reeling from the visual buzz created by filmmakers as imaginative as Zach Synder. Others will lament the return to Sin City‘s comic panel mockery. If you’re already predisposed to hate whatever Miller is making this time, skip The Spirit. You’ll just make yourself angry as everything you suspected about the project pans out as true. But if you’re willing to give this novice a shot at making his own statement, if you’ll let Macht and Jackson and Johannsson and the others gyrate within the material, then you may find yourself pleasantly surprised by the results. The Spirit is not a classic. It may even indicate that Frank Miller is the most flogged of the apparently already dead one trick ponies. Taken on its own terms, however, it’s a beautiful bit of balderdash.

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