Friday, July 4, 2008

Hancock: Flawed but Fascinating

The summer of 2008 hasn't been bad as far as superhero/adventure flicks are concerned. 'Indiana Jones and Kingdom of the Crystal Skull' came up short, but 'Iron Man' was outstanding and 'The Incredible Hulk' was a lot more fun than it deserved to be. And the summer's still got 'The Dark Knight' waiting in the wings. Also in this bumper crop is an interesting original film about an alcoholic, surly superhero. 'Hancock', starring Fourth of July mainstay Will Smith is a flim that doesn't really work, but it's got some elements that make it a somewhat subversive, challenging film.

Originally written several years ago as 'Tonight, He Comes', the script was very well regarded around Hollywood, but went unproduced for years. Director Michael Mann was attached to direct for several years, but it still lay in limbo until Mann protege' Peter Berg (The Rundown, Friday Night Lights, The Kingdom) signed on, with Mann serving as executive producer.

Berg has a habit of focusing on characters who are flawed creatures that have difficulty fitting into the mainstream. A former actor, Berg is known for edgy, jittery upclose camera work, that emphasizes the trials and tribulations that his cast is going through.

Will Smith has shown over the last few years that he can do almost anything and do it well. From his Oscar nominated performance in 'Ali' and 'Pursuit of Happyness' to the comedic charm of 'Hitch', Smith has become America's most popular actor while continuing to stretch at almost every opportunity. Given that, he's a perfect choice to play the sullen, sour 'Hancock'.

An amnesiac superhero with little self control and almost no regard for others, Hancock is a mess: he drinks, he smells, he destroys as much property as he protects. In the midst of saving the life of a PR agent (Justin Bateman), Hancock is confronted with the realization that he's lonely and somewhat ashamed of his behavior. The PR agent convinces him to turn over a new leaf and clean up his act.

Hancock turns himself in to the police and is incarcerated until the level of crime is such that the police need his help. The new Hancock, cleanshaven, polite and wearing a superhero costume, saves the day and is immediately embraced by the public. During this experiment, Hancock develops a foster family, consisting of the PR agent, his son and his beautiful wife, who immediately has both a conflict and attraction to the reformed superhero. To go much further would spoil the film's big surprise, but suffice it to say all isn't as it seems.

Theatrically released with a runtime of 92 minutes, 'Hancock' was originally over two hours long. The screenplay juggled humor with a decidely dark side that proved problematic for a film that was due to be Sony's big summer film. The final film has bits and pieces of the dark side, and Will Smith totally commits to playing 'Hancock' as a bastard, although one who has not totally lost touch with his humanity. The realization that Hancock is a lonely creature, seemingly the only one of his kind on Earth, is beautifully captured in Smith's performance and Berg's direction.

Charlize Theron plays the wife with a secret and perfectly compliments Jason Bateman's low key but humorous performance.
'Hancock' is the type of film that shouldn't have been a summer franchise flick. If left to its own devices, 'Hancock' would have been a quirky, possibly disturbing take on the popular superhero genre'. As such, it's a captivating failure that bears repeated viewing. One hopes that Sony will allow Peter Berg an opportunity to create his director's cut for the inevitable DVD.


Boot to the Head said...

OK, you've turned me around and I now I have to see this film. Thanks Michael.

Matthew Best said...

Me too. I wasn't going to see this, but you've piqued my interest and I will try to catch it somewhere.

I'm waiting to hear your verdict on the Dark Knight - I'm seeing it next Monday. There's also a screening of the X-Files movie next week which Duchovny and Anderson will be introducing so I'm going to check that out, though I'm not holding out much hope for it.