Monday 12 January 2009

Review: The Spirit

Year: 2008
Director: Frank Miller
Screenplay: Frank Miller
Starring: Gabriel Macht, Samuel L Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Eva Mendes

Click here for the synopsis

So I guess it's about time to watch my first movie of the year and I decided on The Spirit. The film has not only been blasted for it's marketing, but has been critically destroyed by almost every reviewer even by critics who are fans of it's director/writer Frank Miller. It hasn't fared much better on the imdb either. But with this said there has been some glowing user comments every so often.

I find myself usually siding with movies like this. I don't know why, I just do. Especially if I watch them a few weeks after the opening release date, when the hype dies down and you can try and watch the film for what it is. In watching The Spirit I released that the marketing for the film was horrendously misguided. Sin City this ain't. In fact apart from the way the movie is filmed and it's creator, the movie doesn't have too much in common with Sin City.

The first major difference is the tone, while Sin City was tough, gritty, ugly film. The Spirit has a camper feel. It's more reminiscent of The 60's Batman Movie. it's over the top, it knows it's a movie and wishes to be a frothy mix of heroism, boards, guns and humor. I have no problem with that and neither do the fans of film.

I do have a problem with; awkward scenes, bland humor, weak acting, irritating dialogue and a dull story. At times I could see a semi-interesting film with The Spirit but I don't think Miller has found it.

The Spirit wants to be all out campy fun. That's fine. But in order to come across well you need conviction, you need chemistry, you need to characters to come alive. When I watch something like The Spirit I don't expect Oscar winning material but I do want a sense of fun. However Miller's direction of scenes left me cold. Scenes go on too long, past the point of the jokes being funny and the point being made. Case in point the first encounter between The Spirit and Octopus. Their first fist fight is not only excruciatingly long but also exceedingly dull. In fact it places the film on the wrong foot (it's not that far into the movie) as the share length of the scene slows any sort of momentum which is desperately needed for a film such as this one.

Much of the film is like this. Directed and written with no build up of excitement or tension. The McGuffin's that the characters are looking for are just not interesting enough to be talking about at length but the characters drone on, nattering on and on (with their awkward dialogue) but not engaging in any shape or form. We'd hope that if this was the case then Miller will pull out all the stops with the action of the film and while he doesn't go down the MTV action route (editing every half second) he doesn't bring forth any set pieces of interest. We get some fist fights some gun fights but they're forgotten very quickly. It doesn't help that the lead characters can't "die" in any conventional way. So like Superman the only way we would fear for our hero is down to an extremely outlandish element of plotting.

Miller tones down some of the more interesting aspects of his film with his tired plotting (to add to his stale direction). The story is not only wafer thin but narrative is set so low that when we finally get to the plays off like an afterthought. Nothing arcs, nothing pulls us in, the film starts and ends on the same level. I'm extremely surprised that aspects as the love triangle that lies in the movie is rarely utilized to it's utmost level. It's a crying shame when you can't bring out an explosive outcome of a love triangle that includes a woman as stunning as Eva Mendes.

But then saying that it's not that Mendes is the most compelling actress. Gorgeous lady but a naff actress. This brings me on to the acting...Considering the tone Miller wanted to convey it's a shame he casts the film with people who don't seem to share the same vision. Gabriel Macht gives a stiff display and gives off little or no presence. This is his movie but he does nothing to show it. In fact the Kudos goes to Samual L Jackson. Jackson invokes the spirit of all the 60's batman villains rolled into one with some shaft added for good measure. It's extremely over the top but once again Jackson shows that he loves the roles he plays and can inject entertainment where there is none. His presence is missed whenever he is not on screen.

Scarlett Johansson gives an odd performance, however it's more watchable than what people have said. Mendes is merely Eye Candy (the same goes for Paz Vegas) and while I love the look of her. I could easily use my laptop to knock one out if I was that desperate. Sarah Paulson and Dan Luria share some ok (abeit generic) scenes together, but it seems that everyone has trouble sharing the screen with Macht. He doesn't have any convincing chemistry with anyone within the film. Miller said himself he found it hard casting the role but with Macht he struck out. i say this but Miller's direction of the film is far from perfect.

I really wanted to like The Spirit but I found it to have too many faults. Fans will argue that people "didn't get it" and should "switch off their brains". I knew what Miller wanted to do, I didn't place much thought into my review of the film (as you can see from the writing), I just didn't like it.