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Saturday, September 11, 2010
I feel like I should just copy and paste my review of any one of the other three Resident Evil movies because, folks, I know it’s shocking, but Afterlife represents more of the same. Franchise producer Paul W.S. Anderson may return to the director’s chair after being absent for two pictures, but the incoherent story, the abundance of clunky action, and the basic players are all still present. Basically, we get a video game adaptation that forgets the adapting part of the equation, the equivalent of watching two friends play the source material for 95 minutes without a controller of one’s own. Oh, and in case you weren’t already working up a headache, this time everything’s in 3D.
But I actually shouldn’t be so harsh. Unlike its immediate predecessor—which I only remember as being completely worthless because I paged back and saw I gave it a zero-bucket review—Afterlife is not agonizingly painful. There’s a pretty cool action sequence towards the end in which the characters escape zombies – probably the best thing Anderson has ever constructed as a filmmaker. That’s a whole 15 minutes of solid fun. Not to mention, Milla Jovovich and especially a brunette Ali Larter are hot as ever. (Yes, the world has ended and society has crumbled, but plenty of makeup and hair products are still readily available.) Given what I’ve been conditioned to expect from this franchise, I was more than happy for these small favors.
If the first three films failed to leave any kind of an imprint on your brain other than that they weren’t very good, then, like myself, you’re probably in the majority. This means that Resident Evil: Afterlife’s first 15 minutes won’t make a lick of sense to you, but then again, does anything else in the movie? The first sequence begins as Alice (Jovoich) raids the evil Umbrella Corporation with an army of clones, squaring off against bad guy Albert Wesker (Shawn Roberts), and ends with her jumping from an exploding helicopter after regaining her humanity from Wesker… or something like that. Then she jets a personal plane to Arcadia, Alaska, a supposed zombie-free refuge location she planned on escaping to with her compadres in the last movie. Turns out Arcadia isn’t much of a paradise; in fact, it’s uninhabited except for a disoriented Claire Redfield (Larter), one of said compadres.
So Alice does what common wisdom tells any survivor of the zombie apocalypse to do: head south. Amidst the rubble of downtown Los Angeles, she and the now lucid Claire spot a group of survivors taking shelter in a prison, a wealth of flesh-hungry zombies lurking outside the gates. These survivors inform the Alice that Arcadia is not a city, but a ship they can see in the distance. (This revelation is so corny I half expected them to tell her she actually got the wrong Arcadia, meaning the real zombie safe-haven is the suburb of L.A.’s San Gabriel Valley, not the one in Alaska.) With that, the movie’s thin plot comes to fruition. Once again, it’s time for our heroes to kick some zombie butt so they can reach a momentary oasis before the next sequel, in which they will inevitably do the same thing all over again.
Among the new team, the only interesting member is Chris (Wentworth Miller), who was found locked up in the prison. The others err on the side of caution and keep him in his cell, despite his claim that he was an Army soldier sent to release prisoners to fight the zombies, only to be mistaken for a guard and locked up by escapees. The menacing Miller ensures that Chris, who we later learn is Claire's brother, always makes for a captivating presence, even though he brings little of consequence to the story. But like I said when discussing the movie’s other pros, small favors seem huge when the movie is Resident Evil: Afterlife.
Deferring to my criticisms of the previous pictures on the rest, the only new part of the equation left to talk about is the 3D. It’s notable because the film was shot natively with an extra dimension on the Pace Fusion Camera, the piece of technology pioneered by Avatar. Like that visual milestone, this film might serve as a pretty cool Best Buy demo-real for 3D televisions, but it’s probably better as a 2D experience. The image is noticeably darker with the glasses on and the depth of field seems artificial. I’ve always been firmly in the anti-3D camp and Resident Evil: Afterlife does nothing to change my mind. In fact, I would argue the only time that the new 3D really works is the same one the old red-blue cellophane glasses kind did: when, as in the case of the recent Piranha 3D, the intention is to cheapen and cheese up the material. Resident Evil: Afterlife was already too cheap from the second it was green-lit. Like its predecessors, this is a movie only for carpel-tunnel afflicted gaming addicts whose weak hands don’t allow for all the seizure-inducing action they crave.
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Resident Evil: Afterlife (2010, USA). Produced by Paul W.S. Anderson, Jeremy Bolt, Don Carmody, Berndt Eichinger, Samuel Hadida, Victor Hadida, Robert Kulzer, and Martin Moszkowicz. Directed and written for the screen by Paul W.S. Anderson. Starring Milla Jovovich, Ali Larter, Kim Coates, Shawn Roberts, Sergio Peris-Mencheta, Spencer Locke, Boris Kodjoe, and Wentworth Miller. Distributed by Screen Gems. Rated R, with a running time of 95 minutes.
His real name is Jack, or is it? That doesn’t much matter because, for most of the movie, he goes by Edward, and you’ll think of him as Clooney. When the audience meets him in a wintery opening scene, he has been staying with a woman in a cabin in the Swedish countryside. That’s the extent of our knowledge, however, when hitmen attempt to kill him. Jack treats the event with such definiteness that it’s clearly a regular occurence for him, and he is able to make off after shooting them—and his fling—dead. From there, his boss Pavel (Johan Leysen) assigns him to a new city, in remote Italy. There, we learn his gig is to make custom firearms, tailored specially for specific hits. His client is Mathilde (Thekla Reuten), who provides the specs and nothing else. Jack mostly follows protocol and keeps to himself as he assembles the gun, but he can’t avoid entanglements with the local priest (Paolo Bonacelli), who realizes his cover as a photographer doesn’t add up, and a seductive prostitute (Violante Placido), who he begins to see off the clock. All the while, the Swedes are clearly still after him.
If quiet, artful movies aren’t your thing, than you best look the other way. But for those who are willing to invest in The American, the payoff is rewarding. While the movie may not deliver constant action, it’s a real white-knuckler, especially due to the overwhelming cloud of doom that enshrouds Jack as the plot progresses.
But before one becomes enveloped in the central character, one will notice the film’s other superior trait: its visual power. Directed by former still photographer Anton Corbijin, who also made the 2007 black-and-white beauty Control, and shot by his DP Martin Ruhe, The American would likely be just as transfixing without sound. The stark, beautifully composed shots are not only a treat for the eyes, they capture the mysterious protagonist’s underlying primal emotions. While Clooney and the screenplay flesh out the details, the widescreen cinematography may be the viewer’s greatest insight into what Jack is feeling on the most basic level, from assuredness to claustrophobia.
Speaking of Clooney: this is his best performance in some time. He’s an actor who has always been gifted at playing solitary, bottled-up characters—for a more mainstream example, just look at Ryan Bingham in last year’s Up in the Air—and Jack represents a blank canvas that gives him a lot of creative room to roam. This is an appropriately un-showy performance, mostly free of dialogue, so the mere fact that Clooney keeps the viewer invested in the character is a marker of his success. And, as is the case with any great acting of this nature, Clooney’s work is up for interpretation; just as a real-life person’s behavior could be viewer completely differently by separate onlookers, such is the case with Jack’s.
And don’t even get me started on Clooney’s co-star, Placido, who has a preordained future in American films for the simple fact that… well, you’ll know when you see them.
With such an engrossing, well-crafted character at the helm, it must have been tempting for director Corbijn to run wild with the movie. It could have easily kept up its high interest level for three hours. But instead, Corbijn remains incredibly measured, just as precise and masterful in his assembly of The American as Jack is in making firearms. It’s a raw filmmaking feat – a picture that strips down all the baggage usually associated with crime movies and makes a far more complex piece of work out of immaculately examined, often impenetrable human behavior.
* * *
The American (2010, USA). Produced by Anne Carey, George Clooney, Jill Green, Grant Heslov, Enzo Sisti, Moa Westeson, and Ann Wingate. Directed by Anton Corbijn. Written for the screen by Rowan Joffe, based on the novel by Martin Booth. Starring George Clooney, Violante Placido, Paolo Bonacelli, Thekla Reuten, and Irina Björklund. Distributed by Focus Features. Rated R, with a running time of 105 minutes.