Sunday, July 14, 2013

Film Review: World War Z

I was not particularly impressed with the trailers to this movie.  And I read articles about how they halted production in order to do a re-write of the whole story: always a bad sign.  So instead of seeing the movie on opening night, I waited a little while and headed to the theater to see it as a matinee.

I wish I had seen it opening night.  World War Z is one of the best movies I've seen this summer.  And it might be the best zombie movie I have seen (I emphasize the might because 1. I have to reflect on this point more and 2. I am not the biggest zombie movie aficionado).

World War Z begins with Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt), looking very much like Thor on his day off, and his wife Karin (Mireille Enos) waking up in domestic bliss with their two young daughters.  The family packs themselves into their SUV and begin their commute through the city.

And then all hell breaks loose.

World War Z begins the action very early and the tension really doesn't let up at all until its conclusion. Director Marc Foster captures both the monster/horror aspect of zombie fiction but also the complete social breakdown.  It was fascinating watching the chaos as the zombie outbreak began in a crowded city, something I don't think I've ever really seen.  Usually we find the post-outbreak wasteland, or we already find a zombie horde in force.  But here we see the chaos of people running like mad, so you cannot tell who is a human and who is a zombie.

The second thing that I enjoyed about WWZ was how smart it was.  In one scene, Gerry is preparing to enter dangerous territory.  He duct tapes a kitchen knife to the end of his rifle for a makeshift bayonet.  But then he duct tapes a thick fashion magazine to his forearm.  I watched him for a moment perplexed, but then I realized he just made a flexible forearm bite-shield.  And he never explains it either.  The movie expects you to keep up and figure things out.

The third thing that I really like is that the movie was full of surprises, at least for me.  Gerry, it turns out, is retired operative for the UN who was an expert in going into hostile territories.  He trades his skills for safe harbor for his family on board one of the US military's floating command center.  So Gerry is paired with Dr. Andrew Fassbach (Elyes Gabel), who is labeled the last best hope of curing the zombie plague.  As they embarked, I thought I knew the trajectory of the story, and I was wrong.  And wherever Gerry goes, things do not go quite the way I expected them.  This is especially pleasing in an age when so many movies are formulaically predictable.

One of the things I was not prepared for was how much the movie felt like a mystery.  How do you fight this seemingly undefeatable enemy.  Throughout the film, clues are dropped.  Maybe I'm just slow, but I found the evidence deliciously difficult to put together.  It kept me intrigued the entire time.

Much has been said about the zombie dynamics in this movie, how they move like an army of ants.  I found this to be a fresh take on the genre.  Also, rather than the groaning, Foster has his zombies constantly chomp their teeth.  The violent clacking is viscerally unnerving.

The performances of the actors are fine.  Pitt's Gerry is mostly a man of action who has to project a lot of charisma in order to work with various groups around the world.  Enos does a wonderful job of being the emotional anchor of the Lane family, carrying the inner stress while projecting comfort and strength to her kids.  David Morse does a creepy turn as a toothless prisoner with a secret.  I also very much enjoyed Pierefrancesco Favino as person who has leadership thrust upon him.  There is also the "blink-and-you'll-miss-him" performance of Matthew Fox.  I can't help but think that his part was much larger but left on the cutting room floor.

World War Z exceeded my lowered expectations.  I was scared, excited, and exhilarated.  What more can you ask for from a summer movie?

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