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In 'Eddie the Eagle', Christopher Walken Is the Best Right Thing

Earnest and naïve, less cute than aggressively geeky, Eddie is something of a walking punchline in his own movie. And then he meets Bronson Perry (Hugh Jackman).


Eddie the Eagle

Director: Dexter Fletcher
Cast: Taron Egerton, Hugh Jackman, Christopher Walken, Tim McInnerny, Rune Temte, Edvin Endre, Jim Broadbent, Graham Fletcher-Cook
Rated: PG-13
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Year: 2016
US date: 2016-02-26 (General release)
UK date: 2016-03-28 (General release)
Website
Trailer

"I think we both know you've gone as far as you can go." It's 1987, and Eddie Edwards (Taron Egerton), in the midst of trying out for the British downhill skiing team, has just knocked down the entire assembly of hopefuls posing on their skis for a photo. It's a goofy image, the skiers all falling like dominos, and a sniffy team official puts his foot down, declaring the limit of the perennially awkward and optimistic Eddie's ambitions.

Or not. The 20-something Eddie is briefly dejected during these early moments of Eddie the Eagle, heading home to Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, where he rips the ski posters off his bedroom walls while his dear mum (Jo Hartley) proffers a nice cuppa tea. The ripping ritual reveals yet another option, as Eddie spots an Olympic ski jumping image beneath a downhill poster. That's it!, he decides then and there. He'll make the ski jumping team.

Indeed, he makes that team rather literally, as it doesn’t exist. Eddie heads to Lake Placid to train, where he meets a German team comprised of cocky young doubters and an endlessly helpful lodge owner, Petra (Iris Berben), who discovers the determined but utterly broke Eddie snoring in her closet. She offers him a job wiping tables and leans in close, her fingers on his chest: "Maybe sometime, I come to visit you at night." Eddie, his eyes wide behind his coke-bottle glasses lenses, stutters and puts her off. He's only here for the ski jumping.

Earnest and naïve, less cute than aggressively geeky, Eddie is something of a walking punchline in his own movie. And then he meets Bronson Perry (Hugh Jackman), former US Olympic ski jumper, gifted and once legendary athlete, now drunk every day, chain-smoking and maintaining the ski jumps at the training facility where Eddie happens to have landed. Several crash montages and slow motion jumping sequences later, Eddie convinces Bronson to be his unofficial trainer, to prepare him for the 1988 Calgary Olympics.

Here the film -- based on a true story -- fudges some of the details in that story, omitting that Eddie was rather an accomplished jumper when he went to Calgary. Instead it presents him as a hapless, lucky, and indomitable underdog, succeeding at jumps he has no right even surviving. While Bronson goes through the risks and describes the instincts and skills needed to master this sport, and the film shows a few jumpers wrecking and being carted off unconscious and limp, Eddie the Eagle is not so interested in the actual dangers or consequences of the sport. Leaning on Matthew Margeson's relentlessly upbeat soundtrack and skipping past the broken bodies, it showcases Eddie's training with Bronson, who encourages him to imagine having perfectly timed sex with his favorite movie star, Bo Derek. By the time "Bolero" pops up on the soundtrack, well, you're more than primed for the slow motion jump, with Eddie's very intent facial expression.

As much as you get this is a conventional sports underdog movie, and as annoying as the clichés and Egerton's exaggerated performance may be, the film does a couple of things right. One, it knows it's exactly that movie and never pretends to be otherwise. It slams home the usual moral messages (Work hard! Never give up! Believe in yourself! Flap your arms like an eagle!) and offers up a predictable array of supporting cast members -- including the arrogant British Olympic Association official (Graham Fletcher-Cook) and Eddie's own unsupportive working-class dad (Keith Allen) -- who must learn lessons.

Eddie the Eagle doesn't care that all this is corny. It's addressing the ten-year-olds in the audience, no matter their actual ages.

And two, Hugh Jackman. He manages to be Broadway here, bombastic and maybe just maybe on the verge of bursting into song, but also a little modulated. The part is showy and the reaction shots are rote, but still, Jackman manages to be surly while also soft, frustrated but vaguely amazed. As always, which is to say, as in Van Helsing or the X-Men franchise or even in Real Steel, Jackman is essentially grand at performing loss and recovery simultaneously. He's convincing when he's corny, compelling when he's cynical. You can't not look at him.

As Bronson, Jackman has help, too, from the film's third and best thing done right: Christopher Walken. As Bronson's former coach Warren Sharp, a father figure whose disappointment is visible on the cover of his memoir, which Eddie carries throughout his adventures, Walken provides a subtle gloss on all the antics. It's a "good book", Bronson and Eddie agree, and when at last Sharp makes his appearance in Calgary -- as you know he will -- Walken's face serves as the ideal, profound reflection of Eddie and Bronson's several emotional transitions, from scared to astounded to exasperated to elated. Walken glides into this film like the perfectly nuanced dancer he is, showing what it can be to perform without limits.

6

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