Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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At The Picture Show
July 2008

Alive and kicking

The hyperkinetic 'Wanted' isn't anything we haven't seen . . . but that doesn't mean it's not irresistible

Universal Pictures
Director: Timur Bekmambetov
Screenplay: Michael Brandt, Derek Haas and Chris Morgan, based on the graphic novel series created by Mark Millar and J.G. Jones
Starring: James McAvoy, Angelina Jolie, Morgan Freeman, Thomas Kretschmann, Common, Terrence Stamp, Marc Warren, Chris Pratt and Lorna Scott
Rated R / 1 hour, 50 minutes
Opened June 27, 2008
(out of four)

There's not much that action movies can give us that we haven't already gotten before. We've seen the same fight choreography, the same chase scenes, the same slow-motion. Of the countless action movies that come out every year, we're lucky if more than one or two of them really make us stand up and take notice.

Which brings us to the curious case of Timur Bekmambetov's Wanted. Here is a movie that certainly isn't an original creation. In fact, at times it bites more movies than it can chew. It is a little bit Matrix, a little bit Jason Bourne, a little bit Equilibrium. And so on.

Yet it begs to be seen anyway. Maybe it plays so fast and loose with its obligatory gravity defiance and over-the-top fight sequences that it earns a certain charm. Maybe it's the nonstop tease of an unconscionably alluring Angelina Jolie firing a semi-automatic. Or maybe - and this is my best guess - it's the absurdly humorous touch given to all of the proceedings, as if Bekmambetov is teasing us with the silly appeal of this level of ultraviolence and then giving us as much as we can handle.

Say what you will about the finished product, but it's nothing if not committed to bringing us the goods. And it doesn't hedge its bets, either. It starts over-the-top and stays there, creating its own rules of logic along the way. We meet the comically doomed Wesley Gibson (James McAvoy), who exists in a world stacked against him and is ill-equipped to handle it. His sensationally overbearing and mean-spirited boss won't get off his back, his insufferable girlfriend is cheating on him with his phony-faced best friend, he has no money or prospects and is working in a cheerfully bright office hell (think Office Space on meth). His response to all this? Crippling anxiety attacks. Nothing he can do except properly medicate himself like a good boy.

Oh, and then also, someone's apparently trying to kill him.

He discovers this - and, you know, his destiny and all that - at a routine visit to the pharmacy, when Fox (Jolie), a woman completely out of his league, informs him that a man around the corner is about to try to kill him. Oh. A long, elaborate, frenetically executed shootout/car chase ensues, during which we see stunts so inconceivable we can't help but admire the attempt.

Turns out, Wesley isn't such a waste after all. His father was one of the greatest assassins who ever lived, paving the way for Wesley to join a fraternity of assassins that has been around for centuries, following a strict code of ethics that make it easier for us all to swallow the whole "killing people for a living" thing. Wesley now has $3.6 million in the bank . . . and those panic attacks? Yeah, turns out it's actually a gift - adrenaline; his heart pumping 400 beats per minute, giving him a greatly enhanced perception of time and space.

(I don't know how good that science is, but for action scenes this creative, I'll go with it.)

And so the fraternity goes about training him - the mastermind Sloan (Morgan Freeman), Fox and a ragtag team of misfits, each with a special assassination skill. Naturally, the action sequences are the make-or-break point for a movie like this, and by that standard, Wanted more than makes the grade. We may have seen action kind of like this before, but Bekmambetov infuses it with his own style and comic sensibility; at the very least, we're being satisfied on a visceral level. (The train sequence is one of the finest action setpieces I've seen this year.)

But more than that, McAvoy makes the movie with his performance, bringing more to the character than what's on the written page. He is going to be one of the great actors of the next 20-30 years, and this, oddly, is one of the movies that proves it. He's proven himself in versatile projects like Atonement, Rory O'Shea is Here, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Bright Young Things and The Last King of Scotland, but in Wanted, he becomes a perfectly credible action star, giving the character of Wesley Gibson the anger and desperation that the role calls for. We expect certain things from action movies, but when it comes to the performances, it's usually just about posturing, masculine mannerisms, comic timing for your one-liners, etc. It's an added bonus when you get a legitimately full-bodied performance; for this movie more than most, it's the extra boost we need. Wesley Gibson is a boring everyman that seems exiled from a life he never knew existed. McAvoy makes us feel those elements of the character, and draws us into his transformation into an action hero as a character-building experience, rather than as a plot requirement.

Read more by Chris Bellamy

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