September 14, 2008

Hancock (2008 film)

Directed by Peter Berg. Written by Vincent Ngo, Vince Gilligan, John August, Akiva Goldsman, and Peter Berg.

Man, what a frustrating film. It usually only takes me 10-20 minutes after getting home from a picture to hack out a review. This sucker's taken me all of two days, mainly because I'm still not entirely sure how I feel about it.

John Hancock is a loser of a super hero. He drinks, sleeps on the streets, doesn't bathe, swears at children, gropes women, and probably does more damage during his "rescues" than if he'd just stayed away in the first place. It gets so bad, the police put out a warrant for his arrest... even though they have no real way of enforcing it.

One day, Hancock saves the life of down-on-his-luck publicist Ray Embrey. Ray is thrilled to be alive and shamed that the public would jeer and hiss at a man who, despite his problems, still goes out of his way to help people. So he makes Hancock an offer: turn himself over to the cops and take a few months in the slammer as an opportunity to clean himself up and get sober. And when the crime rates start to rise, be ready to give the public a new Hancock when they come calling for help.

Will Smith is wonderful in the title role. He buries all the joy and charm he's usually known for in place of a world-weary, chip-on-his-shoulder attitude which just barely covers his desire to do good. And it thankfully doesn't go into an over-the-top swearing sneer. No, you get the sense this is a man in real pain, who desperately needs help but doesn't know how to find it.

Jason Bateman nearly steals the show as Ray, a frustrated yet passionate man who wants to change the world in ways that benefit everyone... if only he could get them to listen.

And let us not forget Charlize Theron as Ray's wife Mary. I worried at first that her character would disappear in the background, but I really love the way they fit her into the dynamic through conflicted feelings regarding Hancock. She starts out hating him because of the waste of a life he's leading but, through a mix of her husband's passion and her own observations of Hancock's pain and desire to fix himself, she gains respect... and maybe something deeper.

This really is a wonderful story. Tight, moving, sweeping, funny... sadly, that's only half the film.

Right smack-dab in the middle of the picture, it changes. There's a major revelation, another super hero appears, an origin, a villain... so much is suddenly thrown at us in the second half that the entire goal of getting Hancock to rise above his self-loathing is swept to the side.

And that's not to say all this new stuff is bad, just sudden and underdeveloped. Hackcock and the new superhero have wonderful chemistry, but their relationship is never clearly defined. The origin story is epic and tragic, but still lacks a why and how. The villain is about as bare-essential as a villain can get. And then there's concepts involving mortality and godhood that pop up but never really get explored.

The second half is like a good sketch of a beautiful painting. You get the sense of where it's going, it even has qualities of its own to appreciate, but it's just not there.

And, yet, I still like the film overall. With the abrupt turn and underdeveloped second half, I can see why it had a hard time clicking with some people, but there's still enough good stuff in there for me. As for a recommendation, I'm not sure. If you go in expecting the midpoint shift, you should be all right. If you aren't expecting it, then I guess you haven't read this review and any words to you would be redundant.

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