Wanted (2008)

Rating: ****
Release Date: 6/27/08
Director: Timur Bekmambetov
Music: Danny Elfman
Cast: James McAvoy, Angelina Jolie, Morgan Freeman, Common, Terence Stamp

One of the craziest and most sincere action films I've seen in a long time. Imagine if "Shoot 'Em Up" (2007) wasn't insulting and didn't suck. Wesley Gibson (James McAvoy) is a pathetic loser working in an accounting firm for a tyrannical boss. He has a repetitive stress disorder as well as severe anxiety attacks, lives in a shit-hole apartment, and his best friend is banging his girlfriend. Life pretty much sucks, until one day he's targeted by an assassin and rescued by a seductively sinister woman named Fox (intense Angelina Jolie). Then his life REALLY sucks. Wesley possesses amazing latent powers, and is recruited by an assassin guild known as "The Fraternity" to unleash and hone those skills so that he becomes a perfect killing machine. Ultimately he wishes to avenge his father's death, but things quickly become complicated.

Not being familiar with the comic book that the film is based on, I can't say anything about how accurate the adaptation is, but it certainly feels like a comic book with its extreme colors, angles, and compositions. Director Timur Bekmambetov is in his element here, and the style is very reminiscent of his earlier "Night Watch" (2004). Wesley's character even bears an eerie similarity to "Night Watch's" Anton. The film is basically a hero's journey, with the main character transforming from a lowly spineless nobody to an unequalled killing machine. While this is necessary for the narrative to work, the first half hour of the film is excruciating to watch, and it isn't until the action kicks in that the film really starts to soar. The action pieces are frenzied and highly kinetic, conjuring up memories of early 90's Hong Kong films. Although their visual styles are different, it's easy to draw comparisons to John Woo in that the action pieces have purpose, sincerity, flow, and grace, and there is great beauty to be found in the over-the-top violence. The film is both intense and intensely beautiful, and much like John Woo the presentation seems very humble and extravagant at the same time. The action pieces are overflowing with both style and ingenuity, and the pacing is excellent. A surprisingly heavy score from Danny Elfman compliments the action very nicely and keeps things moving. The frantic and spastic editing can be overwhelming, which is a huge pet peeve of mine, but it actually works in this film. There's so much going on that you can't possibly take it all in, but the editing still allows you get what's important and doesn't attempt to hide anything.

Angelina Jolie is delightful to watch as a total bad-ass assassin, but she's sadly relegated to a supporting role. This is frustrating since she's the one prominently displayed on the movie poster. I would much rather see a movie about her character, but James McAvoy's transformation consistently grows on you throughout the film. By the end, he's an extremely convincing warrior that you'd best not mess around with. Incredulously, the people sitting next to me in the theater felt compelled to carry on a deep and lengthy analysis and discussion of Ms. Jolie's breasts as if they were some strange and mysterious enigma. I really hate people sometimes. Unbelievable. Anyway, the acting is good throughout and the cast is appropriately believable and easy to relate to. For the most part the eye-popping visual effects are excellent and seamlessly mesh with the actors, but the CGI rats at the end of the film don't work so well. Plot and character development take a back seat to the action, and often the narrative is hard to follow and purposely deceptive. Despite some unfortunate story flaws and awkward attempts at humor, I found "Wanted" to be a riveting and thoroughly enjoyable piece of artistic action cinema and I look forward to Bekmambetov's future projects.