Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Hancock -- The Full Review

So my sis is involved in this online radio show ( and she asked me today to write and record a movie review for this week's show. I decided the review I wrote was pretty decent, so I'm posting it here. Enjoy!

There’s no denying that Will Smith is Mr. 4th of July. Ever since he blew up aliens in Independence Day 12 years ago, he has been the go-to guy when a studio wants a big opening for the holiday weekend. What’s refreshing about Smith is that he has figured out over the past decade how to balance that blockbuster appeal with an artistic sensibility – giving us our big 4th of July spectaculars and then showing up in the fall and winter with more serious, intelligent fare like Ali, The Pursuit of Happyness, and I Am Legend.

What’s so appealing about his latest July 4th offering, Hancock, is that he has found a way to bring those two sides of his celebrity personality together to create a movie that’s entertaining but dark, funny but thoughtprovoking. It’s a noble effort that doesn’t quite get the mix right and ultimately lets the viewer down in the third act, but I’d still rather sit through Hancock than some of the other mindless summer junk getting thrown down our throats this summer – I’m looking at you, Mike Myers.

Hancock is essentially a postmodern superhero tale. Smith’s Hancock, for reasons unknown to him and to the audience for much of the film, has been blessed with super powers – flight, strength, invincibility. While these powers would make many of us giddy with joy, Hancock is mired in an existential funk. He literally has no idea who he is and that frustration fuels the rage that seems to drive Hancock – that and the bottle of whiskey that seems to be permanently attached to his hand. He plays the hero, but he is a true reluctant hero – seeming more pissed off that he has to save humanity than eager to fulfill his destiny. That reluctance and rage makes Hancock a sloppy hero who often creates more damage trying to save the day than might have occurred had he not intervened.

One such “rescue” introduces Hancock to idealistic PR man Ray Embrey (played by the sublime Jason Bateman). Ray sees opportunity in Hancock, the chance for the bitter hero to repair his image and become the hero he is destined to be. He takes Hancock home to meet his family – including his luminously beautiful wife Mary (played by the luminously beautiful Charlize Theron). Mary is put off by Hancock and urges her husband to let the hero wallow in his funk, but Ray refuses to give up.

One of the things that charmed me about this film was Smith’s performance. There’s no denying that Will Smith is an actor who oozes charm and charisma on screen. It’s hard not to like Will Smith – no matter what character he’s playing. Here, Smith does his best to hide that charm and charisma behind the booze and the anger and the grime that envelop Hancock. Some of my favorite moments involve Bateman’s character trying to teach Hancock how to be smooth and gracious – things that seem to come easy to Will Smith but are next to impossible for Hancock.

The film is careful to keep the film light enough that Hancock’s funk doesn’t overpower the audience and leave us all reaching for the razor blades as the final credits roll. At the same time, though, it’s not afraid to give us a hero who is sad and angry and surrounded by confusion and fear. Hancock the man is all those things, and Will Smith lets those feelings play out really nicely.

He gets solid support from Bateman and Theron. Jason Bateman is a great, understated, wry comic actor. He brings a great deal of heart to the film and becomes a key to the emotional center of the film. There are times when you want Hancock to succeed not for Hancock but for Ray.

As for Theron, it’s so refreshing to actually see her get to play pretty for a change. She’s not hiding under layers of makeup or prosthetics or dirt or fat. She’s, quite simply, gorgeous throughout the film and the lighting gives her a glow that I suspect she has in real life. For the first half of the film, I was a little frustrated that an actor of Theron’s quality had been relegated to playing “the wife” in the summer blockbuster. Isn’t she better than that? As the movie progresses, though, Mary emerges from under the shadow of “the wife” and becomes a key to the movie’s ultimate climactic showdown. You need an actor of Theron’s caliber to play that second half of the movie, to bring that heart and passion and heartbreak and make Mary a character that we are invested in.

Hancock does have its flaws. The climax feels rushed and left me with some questions that I wanted answered more definitively. There are a few times when the movie resorts to the cheap and easy laugh rather than one that might be a more sophisticated one. (I’m thinking in particular of a confrontation between Hancock and some prisoners that results in heads going places they really, really should not go. Yeah, it’s funny, but it’s the sort of funny that you feel sort of ashamed for laughing at – especially in a theatre full of people, even if they are laughing too). At times, the editing felt a bit frenetic and left some of the action a little hard to follow. Some of the closeups, too, were a bit extreme. I really didn’t need to see every single pore on Charlize Theron’s face, and yet I felt at the end of the movie that I knew her pores more intimately than my own.

If you’re looking for a wild, mindless summer romp, Hancock isn’t your film. If you’re looking for a serious, existential drama, Hancock isn’t your film. If you’re looking for a movie that offers some laughs mixed with some pathos, you just might want to consider dropping your $10 on a ticket for Hancock. It’s a good way to spend 95 minutes, flaws and all.


Danielle Mari said...

Great review, Melsy. Thoughtful and thorough, but without giving anything away. A rarity these days.

I hope you keep reviewing!

And UM can it really have been TWELVE YEARS since Smith uttered, "Welcome to Earth" and Goldblum muttered, "Enough with the Fat Lady. You're obsessed with the Fat Lady"? Eek gad. Let me get my walker and hobble over to take my Geritol.

Mel said...

Yup. 12 years. We are flippin' old! But then, so is Will Smith. :)

Thanks for the positive feedback. I was a little shocked when she asked me to do it -- and really nervous. I haven't written a hardcore movie review since Knox! But the old muscles started flexing pretty quickly and voila! There I was talking about existential funk!