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July 9, 2008

FILM REVIEW: Hancock – One Half Too Long


By Nathaniel Shockey

Quentin Tarantino wrote a movie called From Dusk Till Dawn, which, halfway in, takes a turn for the extraordinarily bizarre and never looks back. I liked it, and one of the things it illustrated is that a movie can take you from Point A to Point B and suddenly start counting with numbers instead of letters, all the while maintaining the audience’s interest.


The whole movie hinges on how long the audience takes to get from feeling shocked to, once again, being truly engaged. If that transition is brief, then the writer and director deserve high compliments. But it’s understandably difficult to do.


Hancock went for it but didn’t pull it off. A lot of movies these days put what would be a shocking plot twist right into the trailer, which anyone who considers movies a form of art knows is totally wrong. But there’s a reason for this, and that is a softening of the feeling of shock from the audience, which makes it much easier to recover. Expectations change everything. Again, Hancock went for it, giving nothing away in the trailer, but just doesn’t have the goods to back it up.


Maybe the first half of the movie was too good. It was an action/comedy/drama that went amazingly smoothly. Jason Bateman was heavy on the comedy, Charlize Theron was heavy on the drama and Will Smith pulled the two together perfectly.


Jason Bateman is hilarious. His personality is obviously represented quite heavily by the character, Ray. If you ever enjoyed the unfortunately short TV series Arrested Development, you know what I mean. He’s dry, a little cocky, but light-hearted and likable. He’s the normal guy with an edge and a delicious sense of humor. As Ray, he effectively plays a family man who, as his wife (played by Theron) says, “Always sees the good in people, even when it’s not there.”


Naturally, after Hancock saves him, Ray does his best to reform the reckless superhero. Will Smith is, as usual, compelling from the opening scene – which features a close-up of him shooting a snot-rocket (an instant classic!) – to the last one. I really think he can play just about any character, and I’m not sure there is another actor out there who can mix comedy and drama as well as he can. He weaves the two together seamlessly, and by now, hopefully we’ve all realized that there’s a reason he’s one of the few actors who can consistently carry a movie on his lonely back (and oh yeah, that movie will inevitably gross at least $200 million at the box office, even if it’s not that great).


The director, Peter Berg, who previously directed Friday Night Lights and Rundown, has a flare for action. The action in Hancock, however, was often difficult to watch. The flying scenes did not look much better than those out of The Matrix Reloaded/Revolutions, which I always found distracting. Isn’t there some way to make them look more real? We haven’t come that far from Falkor, the flying white dragon in The NeverEnding Story, which was made 24 years ago.


Berg also uses a technique in which he skips back and forth between an intense action scene and either another action scene or something completely tame. It’s a mini-version of the elevator gag, when the action is interrupted by an elevator ride, elevator music and all. But in Hancock, it doesn’t work very well. It’s frustrating, actually, because the action scenes were so gritty that cutting away from them just choked away my interest.


The first half of the movie was really good. The second half, after turning the plot on its head, is not. It takes away from the first half. It diminishes the relationship between Ray and his wife, Mary, and takes away from Hancock’s monumental shift from being a drunk hated by everyone to a superhero everyone likes. The second half was incredibly choppy, the plot was no longer very engaging and the explanation for what happened was totally unsatisfactory.


Granted, I still found the second act mildly entertaining. But it was more of a one-eyebrow-raised, chuckling-in-my-seat entertaining – not the kind where you forget where you are until the credits remind you.

If I could divide the movie in two, I’d give the first half four stars and the second half two. But unfortunately, it was one movie, so it gets three stars out of five.


Three stars out of five.


© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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