Sunday, June 29, 2008

Wanted and the taunts of a Russian bully

Are you a wimp, a baby, a pushover? Do you lead an Office Space life as an Account Manager under a petty tyrannical boss? Does your best friend sleep with your girlfriend after he finagles you into buying him an energy drink and some watermelon-flavored Trojans? When you Google your name, are there no entries? Do you suffer panic attacks when your monstrous anorexic boss browbeats you into breaking out in a cold sweat in front of your equally cowed coworkers? Can we assume that your life has no adventure, interest, or spine?

Such are the not-so-subtle questions that wunderkind Russian director Timur Bekmambetov asks of the viewer of Wanted, a film adapted from the graphic novel by Mark Miller and J. G. Jones. With the grace of a Moscow hoodlum, Bekmambetov films as others mug, forcing us the hard way, with Fight Club-style reproaches, to see the compromises of everyday existence.

How to best reinforce this point as the aforementioned Account Manager Wesley Gibson (James McAvoy) stands meekly at the counter of a drug store in Chicago and waits for his anxiety medication? Angelina Jolie appears at his side, looking gaunt, iconic, and grungy in a white dress, saying “You apologize too much.” Disdainful and contemptuous, Jolie slouches through Wanted with the same snide charisma she displayed as the sociopath Lisa in Girl, Interrupted. Her level of fame suits her role as an assassin named Fox perfectly, and I like the way she dresses down for the part, flaunting her tattoos, and greatly improving upon her preppier Tomb Raider action star persona.

What would she have to do with Gibson anyway? But once a supersensory assassin starts firing at them past the Honey Nut Cheerios, Fox obliges Wesley to join her in a high speed car chase through downtown Chicago. She forces him to steer as she lies down on the car’s hood and fires a shotgun. In Bekmambetov’s world, car chases often lead to one vehicle flying through the air, sometimes into the side of a bus or a train. While I could recognize the influence of Star Wars 4 and The Matrix in the screenplay by Michael Brandt and Derek Haas, I figured that someone liked The Dukes of Hazzard as well.

It turns out that Fox works for an organization of assassins called the “Fraternity,” led with quiet authority by Sloan (Morgan Freeman). Like Tobey Maguire learning of his Spiderman powers, Gibson did not know that he has the capability to speed up his metabolism to over 400 beats per minute and thereby shoot bullets in curves around Fox’s bemused face. First, he must learn to be a man by getting repeatedly beaten, stabbed, and thrown on top of Chicago’s subway trains at night where Fox smirks as she slides under bridges or jumps from car to car as Robert Redford did in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Compared to all of the cheesy therapy on display in recent films like The Love Guru and Get Smart, Wanted believes in old-fashioned boot camp psychological healing and maturation through pain. One of the men in the Fraternity calls himself the Repairman because he gradually fixes Gibson after a lifetime of wimpiness by tying him in a chair and punching him in the face. With a tendency to have human and animal corpses hanging around on hooks in the background, Wanted revels in the body to help Gibson get over the limitations of his mind.

Certainly, Wanted has its problems. Some of its actions scenes view too much like different levels in a video game, and the plot twists get increasingly unlikely as the film goes on, but Bekmambetov directs with humor, imagination, and flair, neatly unifying scenes around flies, rats, or the roar of the subway. He also speeds up or slows down every bullet or flying vehicle so the viewer can relish every ricochet or train crash.

Writing for Newsweek, David Ansen mocked Wanted for “offering mass murder as a cure for the 9 to 5 blues,” but he doesn’t fully acknowledge the extent of the problem of modern day everydayness. Bekmambetov takes pleasure in rubbing Americans in their own subservience to the work ethic and the many humiliations of living in an over-medicated, neurotic, repeat-stress-disordered America. By depicting hit men as wolves, Wanted already takes it for granted that we are the sheep, and the truth of that accusation stings.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great review.

FDr said...

Thanks, anonymous. I will follow up with more notes on Wanted soon.

Z.Z. von Schnerk said...

The main reason that this film is getting slamed by the fans of the comic book is that the main plotline involved the partnership of some of the supervillians in the world, not a group of assasins. I looked over the comic book and the film takes way to many side turns and makes up too many things. Wanted is designed for movie-watchers who haven't read the comic book. That being said it is a great movie, but people not familiar with the source material should check it out and see what is missing.

FDr said...

Good point. I don't know much about the comic book, but I hear it shares the same level of contempt for its audience as the movie does.