“WORLD WAR Z” (2013) Review

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“WORLD WAR Z” (2013) Review

I might as well state it outright. I am not a fan of horror movies. Actually, I hate them. I had once considered ignoring“THE MUMMY”, Stephen Sommer’s 1999 remake of an old Boris Karloff film, until my sister convinced me that it was more of an adventure flick than a horror film. But my dislike of horror films remained intact when I first learned of the new Brad Pitt movie, “WORLD WAR Z”

Barely based upon Max Brooks’ 2006 novel, “WORLD WAR Z” is an apocalyptic tale about a former a former United Nations investigator who must travel the world to find a way to stop a zombie-like pandemic. The movie starts in Philadelphia, where Gerry Lane and his family are stuck in heavy traffic in Philadelphia, while they listen to a radio report of a rabies outbreak that has spread all over the world. Following a series of explosions, the Lanes are attacked by zombies. Those bitten are transformed into zombies after 12 seconds. While the attacks continue, the Lanes narrowly escape to an apartment complex and seek refuge with another family to wait for extraction by a helicopter sent by Gerry’s former UN colleague, the Deputy Secretary-General Thierry Umutoni. After a brief struggle in which Gerry is almost infected, the family reaches the helicopter and is taken to a U.S. Navy vessel off the coast of New York City. There, a team of analysts and military personnel analyze the zombie virus outbreak. A virologist name Dr. Andrew Fassbach suggests that they need to find the origin of the zombie plague in order for a vaccine to be developed. Because of his expertise as a former UN investigator, Gerry is tasked – actually blackmailed by a high-ranking Naval officer – with helping Dr. Fassback to find the source of the zombie virus.

Considering my initial declaration of my dislike toward horror films, one would probably speculate on why I went to see“WORLD WAR Z” in the first place. Like 1999’s “THE MUMMY”, the movie seemed more like an adventure film than a horror flick – especially since the plot required a worldwide apocalypse and a great deal of traveling for the main character. And if I must brutally honest, cast members such as Brad Pitt, James Badge Dale and Matthew Fox were the deciding factor. I could never envision any of them in a typical horror film and assumed there must be more to “WORLD WAR Z” than a bunch of shuffling zombies in a darkened room. To my utter relief, my assumptions proved to be right.

Max Brooks’ novel focused upon a collection of individual accounts about a zombie pandemic and war that had just ended after a decade. The producers; writers J. Michael Straczynski and Michael Carnahan; and screenwriters Carnahan, Drew Goddard and Damon Lindelof decided that Brooks’ story structure would not sustain a viable movie. Instead, they changed the story’s structure to make it more action oriented tale that centered around a main character. Aside from a few quibbles about the plot, I had no problems with this decision. “WORLD WAR Z” still proved to be an exciting and rather frightening tale that provided plenty of family drama, action and a great deal of traveling. In one way, “WORLD WAR Z” reminded me of Steven Soderbergh’s 2011 film, “CONTAGION” – but with some horror and traveling thrown into it.

There were certain action scenes that I found particularly exciting and are particular favorites of mine. Two of these scenes feature escape – namely the Lanes’ rescue by a team of Navy SEALs from a New Jersey apartment building rooftop and Gerry’s escape from Tel Aviv with an Israeli soldier named Segen. I found two scenes – the Lanes’ search for sanctuary at the New Jersey apartment building; and Lane and Segen’s attempt to get their hands on a pathogen for a cure at a World Heath’s Organization (W.H.O.) in Wales – particularly spine-tingling. Almost nerve wracking. But the movie also featured a few excellent dramatic scenes. Among my favorites include Umutoni and Captain Mullenaro’s successful attempt to convince Lane to search for the zombie virus’ origins; Lane’s good-byes to his wife Karin and their daughter; Lane and Army Captain Speke’s conversation with a former CIA operative, who led the former to Israel; and Lane’s initial meeting with a grieving WHO medical researcher.

Although I enjoyed “WORLD WAR Z”, I must admit that I had a few problems with some of plot. I was annoyed that either the screenwriters or director Marc Forster failed to do a proper setup of the story’s main narrative – namely the zombie virus. The movie featured a montage of news reports during the opening credits and a few television and radio reports before the Lane family found themselves overwhelmed by the zombie outbreak on the streets of Philadelphia – some five to ten minutes after the movie began. I was also disappointed that the movie’s plot dropped Lane’s search for the zombie pandemic’s origins and instead solely focused on finding a cure during the last 30 to 40 minutes. So, although the W.H.O. managed to develop a vaccine to prevent the rest of the world’s population from getting infected, the movie ended with no knowledge of the pandemic’s origins. Just a outbreak of military hostilities against the zombies. I found all of this somewhat unsatisfying. 

However, I did not find the performances unsatisfying. Once again, Brad Pitt proved that he could be a satisfying action hero and dramatic actor all rolled into one, thanks to his first-rate performance as former U.N. investigator, Gerry Lane. Mireille Enos’ portrayal of Lane’s wife Karin struck me as perfectly poignant and emotional, as she struggled to keep her family together during Gerry’s absence. I have never heard of Fana Mokoena before this movie. But I must admit that I found his performance as the compassionate, yet professional U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Thierry Umutoni very impressive. I hope that “WORLD WAR Z” will make Daniella Kertesz a star. I was very impressed by her performance as Lane’s Israeli companion, “Segen”.

“WORLD WAR Z” also featured some excellent performances from cast members who made brief appearances. One of them came from David Andrews, who gave an intense portrayal of the U.S. Navy captain that convinced Lane to search for the zombie pandemic’s origins. David Morse was equally intense and rather humorous as a traitorous ex-CIA agent, who provided Lane with information that led the latter to Israel. James Badge Dale, who seemed to be having a banner year in 2013, was even more witty as U.S. Army Ranger Captain Speke, who was in charge of a base in South Korea. Ludi Boeken gave a solid performance as a Mossad official responsible for preparing Israel’s pre-emptive defences. Peter Capaldi’s performance as a W.H.O. researcher also struck me as very solid and at times, rather witty. Matthew Fox reminded me just how very effect he could be in action films in his very brief role as a U.S. Navy SEAL officer who saves the Lanes from a zombie attack on the rooftop of the New Jersey apartment building. But the one cameo appearance that really impressed me came from Pierfrancesco Favino, who gave a poignant and intense performance as a W.H.O. researcher, who reminded Lane that the latter was not the only one who suffered from separation family members.

Yes, I had a few problems with the plot for “WORLD WAR Z”. I wish the screenwriters had put more detail in the zombie pandemic’s setup. And I was disappointed that the search for the pandemic’s origins had been dropped. But overall, I enjoyed “WORLD WAR Z” very much, despite it being a movie about zombies. Overall, Marc Forster did an excellent job as the movie’s director. And he was ably supported by fine performances from a skillful cast led by Brad Pitt. But do not expect me to become a fan of zombie stories in films and television in the future.

“SAFE HOUSE” (2012) Review

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“SAFE HOUSE” (2012) Review

One of the first hits of the year 2012 turned out to be a neat little political thriller called “SAFE HOUSE” that was directed by Daniel Espinosa. 

Penned by David Guggenheim, “SAFE HOUSE” is about a young and ambitious C.I.A. agent named Matt Weston, whose present assignment is the “housekeeper” of an Agency safe house in Cape Town, South Africa. When ex-C.I.A. agent-turned-international criminal Tobin Frost turns himself in to a nearby U.S. consulate, Weston is informed by his superiors at Langley that Tobin will be brought to the safe house by an Agency torturer named Daniel Kiefer and his men. Weston watches the torture, until the process is interrupted by mercenaries led by a man named Vargas. He has been after Frost for some information that the latter acquired from an MI-6. Kiefer and the other C.I.A. agents are killed by Vargas and his men. And Weston escapes the safe house with Frost as his captive.

As I had stated earlier, “SAFE HOUSE” is a neat little political thriller filled with exciting chase sequences and nail-biting fight scenes. All of this was filmed in and around Cape Town, Africa; which struck me as a refreshingly original setting for a spy thriller. More importantly, screenwriter Guggenheim allowed all of the action to revolve around the computer file that the Tobin Frost character had acquired. The file contained information on the illegal activities of various intelligence officials throughout the world – including those from the C.I.A. The Vargas character had been recruited to get his hands on the file and kill Frost in the process. Due to this subplot, Guggenheim managed to introduce the element of a “mole” within the C.I.A. And the mole in question might either be Weston’s mentor, David Barlow, or the latter’s colleague, Catherine Linklater.

I cannot deny that “SAFE HOUSE” is an entertaining thriller and I could easily see why it did so well at the box office. It possessed a tight plot concerning betrayal. The movie also questioned Weston’s determination to maintain his C.I.A. career by allowing Frost to recount his own intelligence career and the circumstances that led him to turn rogue. However . . . it was not a perfect movie. It has its share of flaws that will never allow it to be considered one of the best spy thrillers to come out of Hollywood.

I have complained in past reviews about the new style of cinematography and editing that has prevailed in action-adventures since the BOURNE movies directed by Paul Greengrass. Yep . . . the same type of cinematography, direction and pacing is also prevalent in “SAFE HOUSE”, thanks to director Daniel Espinoza, cinematographer Oliver Wood and editor Rick Pearson. Oh well. I suppose one has to endure some unpleasant aspects for the sake of a decent story. Speaking of the story . . . well, how can I say this? I enjoyed it. But I must admit that I found it rather predictable. It did not take me very long to figure out the “mole” who had sent Vargas to kill Frost. And I managed to figure out Weston and Frost’s fates at least a half hour before the movie ended.

Thankfully, “SAFE HOUSE” provided plenty of first-rate performances that allowed me to . . . somewhat overlook the movie’s flaws. Some of my favorite Denzel Washington roles have always been those that reeked of moral ambiguity. And Tobin Frost proved to be one of his most ambiguous roles to date. I must admit that I was a bit surprised by his character’s goal by the film’s last twenty minutes. I had assumed that his position as a rogue agent was a means to bring justice to the “mole” within the C.I.A. or in protest of some operation that threatened innocents. I was wrong. His actions had been purely motivated by greed. Yet, I could not help cheering him on, as he managed to evade his pursuers throughout the movie. Ryan Reynolds portrayed a less ambiguous role – namely the inexperienced C.I.A. agent Matt Weston, who has ambitions to rise within the Agency. Reynolds is already in his mid-30s, yet he did a first-rate job in capturing the naivety and ambitions of someone who could be at least a decade younger. This allowed Reynolds convey Weston’s gradual maturity with great skill. By the end of the movie, his Weston almost seemed like a completely different from the young man at the beginning of the film.

“SAFE HOUSE” also boasted some solid performances from Sam Shephard, who portrayed the garrulous C.I.A. Director Harlan Whitford; Vera Farmiga as C.I.A. operative Catherine Linklater, who seems determined to believe that Weston is a fellow conspirator of Frost’s; Liam Cunningham as the MI-6 agent who provided Frost with the files; Rubén Blades as a former contact of Frost’s, whose help he seeks in a local Cape Town township; Robert Patrick, who gave his character – C.I.A. torturer Daniel Kiefer – a sharp air of professionalism; and Nora Arnezeder, as Whitford’s French girlfriend, who left confused by his sudden determination to distance himself from her. My favorite supporting performance came from Brendan Gleeson, whose portrayal of Weston’s mentor, David Barlow, seemed to rival Washington’s when in regard to moral ambiguity. Gleeson injected enough mystery into the character to make a viewer wonder if he is the mole or not. At the same, it is quite apparent that he cares about Weston’s career and safety.

“SAFE HOUSE” may not be the best spy thriller to come along in quite a while. I found the plot rather predictable and I was not that impressed by the Greengrass-style photography and editing. But I cannot deny that Daniel Espinoza directed an entertaining thriller, thanks to a solid script written by David Guggenheim and an excellent cast led by Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds.