The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Thursday, November 21, 2013

World War Z

Thanks to AMC's The Walking Dead (among other things), the zombie genre has gotten an energy boost the last couple years from film to books to TV shows. I read Max Brooks' World War Z and loved it, an interesting twist on the zombie genre, most of all a smart, well-written book not interested in horror(ish) shock value. It was apparent the book just couldn't be adapted for one feature length film, making me suspicious of 2013's World War Z. Long story short? It has little to do with Brooks' novel, but it's pretty good just the same.

A former United Nations employee, Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) lives in Philadelphia with his wife, Karin (Mireille Enos), and their two daughters. Caught up in traffic driving to work, Gerry and his family are caught up in mass chaos, seemingly deranged human beings attacking other ones at will. The Lanes manage to escape the city and all its death and violence, Gerry getting a call from his former boss with the U.N., Thierry (Fana Mokoena), asking him for help. The attacks are not an isolated events, something happening across the world, thousands and maybe millions of people dying. What's going on? The word 'zombie' is beginning to pop up, the undead attacking live human hosts, the victims then turning into zombies themselves. Working with survivors among the military and government, Gerry is tasked with finding a solution; a clue, a lead, something that will help the human race survive. The world is tearing itself apart. Can Gerry survive long enough to find those desperately needed answers?

The difficult part of Brooks' novel is that it isn't a novel, but an oral history. It is a series of interviews with people who survived World War Z -- the zombie takeover -- and what they saw. We meet common people, government officials, brilliant minds working to combat the zombies, military, medical staff and everything in between. We see nothing live, simply hearing about it later. There is a subtle brilliance to its storytelling device. The trick does any two-hour film somehow manage to pack all that detail on a worldwide level into such a short run-time? Basically, it doesn't. The film makes a valiant effort to do so -- Pitt's Lane globe-trotting to find a solution/cure -- but if you're looking for a literal, spot-on adaptation of Brooks' novel, you're going to be disappointed. Take solace in the fact that the movie is still really good.

What I liked about director Marc Forster's film is that it doesn't spell everything out for us in crystal clear fashion, just like the novel. We never find out exactly what caused the zombie takeover, whether it be a disease, a virus, Mother Nature rearing its ugly head. Early on, we don't see the zombies directly, just blurry motion as they race by the camera. It's only as Gerry learns what's going on that we start to see these undead attackers head-on. A doctor (Elyes Gabel) does a great job with a monologue that lays out what's going on, and maybe more scary, if there's anyway to stop it. Without explaining every little detail, we get a picture of what's going in the world as the epidemic takes over. We hear in the background that Washington DC is gone, that other cities aren't far behind. I thought that was a really smart movie. We get that big picture, but it doesn't lose the personal element we get from Gerry, his family and those he meets along the way.

As the only cast member who is in basically every scene, Pitt does a fine job carrying the movie. We learn tidbits about his past, but mostly we're in the here and now. With his past work as a respected, trusted United Nations employee on an international level, his Gerry knows how to handle himself in sticky situations. The rest of the cast is an ensemble (a nice nod/attempt to adapt the novel), the people Gerry meets in his investigation. We meet Segen (Daniella Kertesz), a young Israeli soldier, Capt. Speke (James Badge Dale), an Army officer with a small crew of surviving soldiers in Korea, Warmbrunn (Ludi Boeken), an intellectual helping Israel survive the epidemic, David Morse as an ex-CIA agent caught up in Korea, (Pierfranceso Favino), a World Health Organization doctor in Wales, and Tomas (Fabrizio Zacharee Guido), a young boy caught up in the chaos with the Lanes from Newark. Even Matthew Fox makes a blink and you'll miss it appearance as a parajumper who helps the Lanes. The variety of the people we meet does help give a touch of what Brooks' novel did so well.

The scale is pretty impressive, as it should be with a film featuring a $190 million budget. We go from Philly to Newark to following the U.S. Navy in the Bahamas to Korea, Israel and Wales. There are some pretty impressive set pieces, especially the initial takeover in Philadelphia and a surprising attack in a walled-in Jerusalem. A nighttime encounter with Speke's troops at an isolated base in Korea is the most action you'll see, small scale but unsettling and highly effective. The same goes for the finale in a half-infested W.H.O facility, Lane and several doctors trying to navigate their way through its sterile, fluorescent hallways. It's the finale that was supposedly re-shot by Forster and his crew (at quite the cost), replacing this finale with an epic zombie vs. human battle in Red Square in Moscow. I'd be curious to see that ending, but this one's pretty cool too on that smaller scale.

So there we are. I think this zombie flick is missing something from being a classic, but that didn't take away from a very entertaining, very tense movie. I really liked Brad Pitt leading the ensemble cast in a movie that does a good job balancing out the large scale with the personal. Also worth mentioning is Marco Beltrami's score (listen HERE) as well as dropping in some songs from one of my favorite musical groups, Muse, including Isolated System and Follow Me. Both provide some nice electronic touches to Beltrami's very solid score. Well worth checking out, whether you're a fan of the book or not.

World War Z (2013): ***/****

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