The Films of Gavin Hood
A Reasonable Man
In Desert and Wilderness
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X-Men Origins: Wolverine (May 10/09)
After famously leaking onto the internet more than a month prior to its release, X-Men Origins: Wolverine - which details the origins of Hugh Jackman's titular character - was quickly caught up in a miasma of negative buzz as illicit downloaders almost unanimously panned the movie (which was, to be fair, missing a hefty chunk of footage and a whole host of special effects shots). It’s quite surprising to note, then, that the final product is actually a slight degree more effective than its immediate successor (yet it’s also a far cry from Bryan Singer’s effortlessly masterful X2: X-Men United), as the movie has been infused with the various elements that one has come to expect from this ongoing series – including over-the-top action sequences, memorable villains, and an almost Oscar-worthy turn from Jackman as the character that essentially made his career. And although the movie does suffer from the presence of a few unintentionally campy elements and a noticeably flabby midsection, X-Men Origins: Wolverine primarily comes off as a satisfying, sporadically enthralling bit of popcorn escapism that marks a fine start to the summer-movie season. Director Gavin Hood, best known for dramas such as 2005’s Tsotsi and 2007’s Rendition, instantly establishes himself as a far more adept filmmaker than such purveyors of action as Michael Bay and Len Wiseman, as he thankfully eschews the shaky camerawork and rapid-fire editing tricks that have lamentably come to define most contemporary action movies. Dig a little deeper, however, and the viewer is presented with an unexpectedly compelling revenge thriller, with Wolverine’s efforts at avenging the death of a loved one ensuring that Jackman’s already-grizzled character reaches points of viciousness heretofore unseen within this series. Add to that a series of enjoyable tough-guy performances from a supporting cast that includes Liev Schreiber, Ryan Reynolds, and Taylor Kitsch, and you’ve got a recipe for an entertainingly testosterone-fueled installment within the X-Men franchise.
Based on the book by Orson Scott Card, Ender's Game follows Asa Butterfield's title character as he's recruited by an esteemed military man (Harrison Ford's Colonel Graff) to participate in an ongoing war against otherworldly creatures - with the film primarily detailing the many battle simulations and exercises in which Ender is forced to participate. There's little doubt that Ender's Game fares much, much better than Card's surprisingly dull novel, as filmmaker Gavin Hood employs a strikingly cinematic feel that does, for the most part, compensate for the source material's repetitive and uninvolving atmosphere. It's a feat that's made all-the-more-impressive by Hood's remarkable faithfulness to Card's 1985 book, with the film's narrative retaining most of the original story's beats and plot twists - which, in turn, paves the way for a stagnant midsection that seems to revolve entirely around the aforementioned simulations (ie it's just one fight after another). Butterfield's competent yet far-from-charismatic performance perpetuates the movie's pervasively uneven vibe, and it's clear that Hood has his work cut out for him in terms of recovering the viewer's waning attention in the buildup to the final battle. But that battle, when it does arrive, is admittedly quite exciting and worth the wait, with the effectiveness of this stretch heightened by an unexpectedly gripping scene between Butterfield and Ford's respective characters. It's a last-minute save that ultimately secures Ender's Game's place as a better-than-expected adaptation, with the anticlimactic conclusion unable to entirely dampen what is otherwise a strong (and impressively gripping) climax.
Eye in the Sky (April 22/16)
A low-key yet often thoroughly tense drama, Eye in the Sky follows several characters as they debate (and debate) the pros and cons of employing a drone strike against a Middle Eastern home occupied by known terrorists. It's clear that Eye in the Sky takes its time in wholeheartedly capturing the interest and attention of the viewer, with the movie's somewhat iffy opening stretch slowly-but-surely giving way to a midsection that's rife with captivating sequences. Filmmaker Gavin Hood, along with scripter Guy Hibbert, does an effective job of infusing the narrative with a sense of escalation in terms of the deadly scenario, and it's clear that the movie's surfeit of top-notch performances go a long way towards perpetuating the progressively engaging vibe. (The film boasts stellar work from, among others, Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul, Barkhad Abdi, and, in one of his final film roles, Alan Rickman.) The stageplay-like atmosphere is, as a result, generally not as claustrophobic and oppressive as one might've imagined, as the various levels of redtape and bureaucracy facing the characters becomes more and more intriguing as time progresses (ie there's something inherently fascinating in the almost relentless buck-passing that occurs before a decision can be made). And although the film is probably just a hair too long, a feeling compounded by a fairly underwhelming conclusion, Eye in the Sky is nevertheless a refreshingly adult endeavor that shines a potent spotlight on a fascinating (and quite relevant) contemporary issue.