Tuesday, October 14, 2008

BODY OF LIES: MOVIE REVIEW

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Russell Crowe, Mark Strong
Director: Ridley Scott
Runtime: 128 min.
Rating: **1/2
Genre: Thriller, Action

        Allow me to break the bubble of expectation, if any. Body of Lies might be serious in the way it approaches its subject matter, but that seriousness would only be skin deep. A kind of pretension, and an uneasy one at that. I say uneasy because this film intends to blend its standard issue Hollywood thrills and frills with a treatment that is begging for intellectual involvement and consideration. It works at one or two occasions, I admit, but Mr. Scott’s opinion of the terrorism and the moral quandaries the fight against it presents is as profound and insightful as mine, which to say isn’t much. There isn’t one novel observation or any theory suggested apart from the same old. Either that, or as I suspect, Mr. Scott is essentially functioning as an illustrator, which is to say he is putting a rather underwritten/overwritten (any which way you look at it) William Monahan script onto the screen with his usual add-ons of style and sophistication. And that there is the uneasy, and dare I say, the ugly death ring of the grace that accompanies Body of Lies, that for most of its part looks and feels nothing like the tense, grim, harsh, cruel and brutal reality it intends to depict. It is too polished, and not even the graphic image of two fingers hammered down to pulp could wipe it.
        Oh, but there’s one pertinent observation and a statement. That would be Roger Ferris’ (DiCaprio) multi-linguistic skills. Ferris is the eye and the ears of the CIA in the Middle East, and it wouldn’t be too audacious of me if I looked upon him as another amalgamation of the two JBs – James Bond and Jason Bourne. When Charlie Wilson expresses his surprise to Gust Avrakotos that how could a guy like him get into the agency, it seems the impression he was referring to was that of Ferris. The one difference between Ferris here, and say a Bourne (or a John Rambo) is that the latter’s films would make a lot of noise with regards to one-man-army capabilities. But not here. And let that not fool you. Because Ferris here, who sports a rather curious beard, which I believe is his primary weapon of disguise, does unbelievably well in the stunt department too, and when not adapting with the local language, he is either dodging bullets, or getting bitten by diseased dogs, or escaping mostly unscathed when a stone hut explodes and the rubble falls around him, or setting up a fake terrorist organization complete with fake funds and fake claims, or trying to fall in love with a local beauty. Needless to say, he does all on his own. He is the man, despite his accents flickering and fluctuating like that street light you used to throw stones at (Remember Blood Diamond, and DiCaprio’s on and off Afrikaans?). And that is not the point. The point to be garnered from here is that before 9/11, and especially during the Clinton administration, there wasn’t a single Middle East expert of the CIA working in the streets. Not even a guy who could muster the local language, let alone maintaining and nurturing an asset who could be the eyes and ears behind the walls. This was one of the many grounds upon which Robert Baer, a former employee and a field agent of the CIA, lambasted his organization and the bureaucracy behind it in See No Evil, upon which Syriana is based, the one of the two or three good films to come out on the subject to date.
        What is Ferris’, and the CIA’s agenda? To nab Al Saleem, the leader of an offshoot of Al Qaeda. Al Saleem’s organization has disappeared off the technological grid, that is to say they have altogether stopped using modern means of communication. Passing information hand to hand, and old school methods of the kind, is how they are causing blasts in Manchester and Amsterdam. I know, if the CIA would just rely less on technology and Ferris and instead increase its force on ground they could suck in a lot more information. I’m not sure that observation is a conscious statement by the film, or if it is just good old fashioned serendipity. Never mind. The point is we ought to know better, and we ought to learn despite a film having no idea what to preach. Speaking of which, it is also quite true that wiping the head of a terrorist organization wouldn’t necessarily clean the mess. But that would be the attitude of Ed Hoffman (Crowe), CIA’s Head of Division for the Middle East. Crowe plays him quite brilliantly as a bully and a big brother who wouldn’t take no for an answer and wouldn’t necessarily encourage discussion. That is to say he sits behind a desk, or in front of a screen privy to real time live action, and dispenses orders to Ferris on a phone. And his understanding of the crisis is to kill ‘em all and leave it to God to sort ‘em out. As in, nobody is innocent in this shit. As in, Middle East is a terrible place. As in, he is supposed to represent the boorish nature of the United States. If you are mistaking Hoffman for a person, and wondering about his character, I believe you might be doing him and the film a bit of disservice. There is a certain degree arrogance to his relentlessness not to be interpreted as the bad guys, but someone who is self-righteous and devoutly so. The ends justify the means. Morality is for weak people. If you watch the film and if you ask yourself if Hoffman sleeps soundly now after pushing the red button on so many people, and will sleep soundly twenty years hence, I believe you are asking the wrong question. Because you might be judging him, and Ridley Scott and William Monahan (screenwriter, The Departed, Kingdom of Heaven) are doing much the same. In a way Hoffman is what the film, and the opening quote by W.H. Auden that says – Those to whom evil is done Do evil in return – isn’t necessarily ominous in tone but a matter of truth. That is to say, it is an all out war, and these are the men who protect us, and often the protectors aren’t supposed to be the same as the ones who they protect.
        So, there’s Roger Ferris and there’s Ed Hoffman, and there might be a case made that both represent what the United States Intelligence community ought to be in particular, and what they are respectively. As is the case, this is a nice and ripe scenario for a clash and a spark between the man on the ground and the man behind the desk. As we find it in Body of Lies, not necessarily, and this is the point where the film shows a lot of resource (I believe the credit ought to be given to David Ignatius upon whose novel the film is based), and this is the single biggest point that disappointed me and broke completely the film for me.
        Let me explain how that happened, and I’ll be treading most carefully because this film is all plot and no narration, and I wouldn’t want to thread it for you here either.
        William Monahan’s script offers its services primarily to the actions, the breakneck developments (which we don’t realize but only learn as facts, as if read out from a page) and the plot, which means to say that Mr. Ferris and Mr. Hoffman have already been developed even before they set foot inside the film. Not exactly a problem, and this could often be used as a strength. But not here. What the script ought to focus on is how the central characters react, on what decisions they make so that a necessary insight is provided. What the script does instead is throw one paradox after another, with these two folks only helping in the plot reaching its destination. For instance, the film bases its eventual realization upon Mr. Ferris being greatly disillusioned with the way CIA works. But I never got around to understand why he feels that way, because he has been working hand in hand with the guys this entire time. But I wasn’t convinced because he doesn’t flinch from killing a potential asset, and he doesn’t bat an eyelid when framing an innocent family man as the leading architect of a major terrorist faction of the Al Qaeda. Yet, the climax is a set piece, a supremely improbable and clichéd one, which is designed around an emotion that Mr. Ferris only passably exhibits during the entire run of the film – love and care. There’s a lady with whom he falls in love, though it for sure couldn’t possibly be more than an infatuation. This is a nurse, and let me tell you she has a twinkle in the eye you would want to fall on your knees for, but not necessarily walk into the middle of the desert ready to be picked up for slaughter by the leading terrorist of the world. Especially if you’re an infidel.
        And that there is the problem. Monahan’s script is convenient, but never convincing. He used a female character just the same way to resolve the plot in The Departed (Vera Farmiga), and he does the same here. I wonder what to make of it. Even if we consider the larger picture, the film isn’t a model of clarity as we are only given information about what happens, but now how that what happens. We are essentially taken on a ride from one city to another city to another city coursing though one development to the next to the next. We are never clear why vital information is often withheld from Mr. Ferris? Because for all I could see, Ferris and Hoffmann hit off each other quite well. I think I might know why. Because this is an underwritten script with an overwritten plot that fixes too much on development and less on character. In The Departed deceit and lies and treachery and backstabbing felt like the necessities borne out of the characters, here it feels like the mechanics of a plot. Having Mr. Hoffman essentially as a voice on the phone is nothing more than a convenient device for the script to throw developments at us which are necessary for the film to keep moving. Our POV is essentially Mr. Ferris, but the film never realizes or uses that state to any significant effect. Ridley Scott, in his turn, does nothing apart from lending it a gloss, and the film as a result loses its potency. It feels inert, as if being read of a newspaper, and extremely mechanical. A case could be certainly made as to why Monahan himself didn’t make the film.
        I wonder what the film is about. Is it a theory about the fight between forces one of whom is technologically driven and other ideologically driven? I’m not so sure, and even though that is a plot point and an objective, the film never dwells into the details save the superficial ones. We’re almost never provided with an insight about how the terrorist outfit works, and that is pretty obvious because it is tough. Body of Lies could have been grandly enjoyable, and it still is to an extent. It is a shallow film that deserves a shallow audience that munches its popcorn. And if you happen to miss one or two plot points, don’t feel bad because nothing matters. When it all ends, you’ll know caring wasn’t just worth it.

Friday, October 10, 2008

BABYLON A.D.: MOVIE REVIEW

Cast: Vin Diesel, Michelle Yeoh, Mélanie Thierry
Director: Mathieu Kassovitz
Runtime: 90 min.
Rating: **
Genre: Action, Sci-fi

        It has been a tough summer for Twentieth Century Fox. All their films have performed abysmally at the box office, the most tragic of which is The X-Files: I Want to Believe, a film I have immensely loved, and which I believe, has been marketed rather poorly and released quite most inappropriately. There’ve been reports seriously dissecting the iron hand that exists down at Fox, and the way they deal with their filmmakers. So much so that major filmmakers no longer prefer to work with them. And when Mathieu Kassovitz, one of the most explosive talents to come out of France, and having helmed films as radical and provoking as La Haine (1995) and Assassins (1997), blasts his own film and the studio behind it barely couple of weeks before its release, I have no choice but to agree. I have little or no first hand idea how the business works, but after having watched the film, there’s little doubt why Kassovitz is so displeased. Babylon A.D. isn’t a bad film, and there’re several reasons why the film could be appreciated. But then, the product as a whole is terrible, and dare I say amateurish. And confusing. You’ll draw the realization about the confusing part when the film ends, rather when the film tells you it has ended, and you’re in no better place with respect to understanding the plot than when you bought the admission ticket. One might have enough reason to wonder if the studio, in its immense grief, somehow forgot to add the penultimate reel. And one can only wonder.
        Yet I had a good time. Yes, I wish they had an ending and didn’t leave it to us to make sense of it all. But walking in, I kinda expected that, considering its history and the death ring that was the director’s statement. And even with that knowledge, which I’m not sure worked for the better or for the worse, I was intrigued by the plot. Yes, there’s one, a derivative one at that and it is fairly apparent for a bare-knuckled genre film. Somewhere in the future there’s a young woman Aurora (Mélanie Thierry) in a remote convent in Tibet, one who holds a great secret, and upon whom the fate of the world rests. Toorop (Diesel), a former mercenary, is given the job of transporting her to New York.
        Now this is a time and this is a world where anarchy and poverty reins, where corporations rule the world, and the one obvious good thing about Babylon A.D. is the impressive set designs. And the actors are as good as they can be in a film where the shots more often than not feel confused. Look, I don’t feel like dwelling into a film and reviewing it when the filmmaker doesn’t have even one nice word to say for it. The film might have arguably the most incomprehensible and badly assembled action sequences ever, and there’s a treat for anyone who can design any of the set piece for me completely. It isn’t possible. But I believe there was once at its heart the germ of a good, if not a great film. There were ideas that were worth discussing, and there was a plot that was worth dissecting. The remnants are there to be seen. But as it is now, even a Director’s Cut might not do the trick. I wonder how things could have reached so low where a director disowns a film. After all, he has shot it. And if someone else assembled it, were they so naïve and forgetful that they missed the ending. Or did they? I can only wonder.

THE X-FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE – MOVIE REVIEW

Cast: David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Amanda Peet, Billy Connolly
Director: Christ Carter
Runtime: 104 min.
Rating: ****
Genre: Thriller, Sci-fi, Drama

        A woman is driving back to her home in the middle of the night. The place is somewhere in Virginia and the time is 10 p.m. We cut to morning where a group of FBI agents are marching in line and digging through a field of thick snow. We cut back to the woman again as she parks the car in the garage. We cut to a dog’s P.O.V. as it looks at the woman and barks through the glass window. We cut back again to the FBI agents and we learn that a female agent (Amanda Peet) is calling the shots and that an old man is leading the way. We cut to the woman again as she gets out of the car and is surprised by the intensity with which her dog is barking. She sees footsteps in the snow and realizes there’s someone lurking in the dark. We cut again to the FBI agents and here we wonder why the film doesn’t show it linearly so that we find better rhythm and clarity to the narrative. We’re wrong, because one, that old man is a psychic, and two, when the old man finds a severed arm of a man in the snow, we’re immediately drawn in. The missing woman is an FBI agent.
    The X-Files is a surprise, a pleasant and a touching one. I say surprise, because it is a film where explosions and car chases are replaced by passages of long and thoughtful conversations. There’s Agent Fox Mulder (Duchovny) and Agent Dana Scully (Anderson), and we’re intrigued because there’s a mystery chasing them as much as they’re chasing it. They’ve left the FBI, the former opting to be a recluse and the latter a doctor at a convent hospital. They’ve their own battles, and they’re called upon to aide in the search for the missing FBI agent because of their expertise with psychics. Now clairvoyance is a greatly debated field, and its application to solving cases finds as many skeptics as anywhere else. More so here, and for two reasons, which when considered mutually and with respect to the ability, are strangely fascinating – (i) the old man is a priest and (ii) he is a convicted pedophile.
    It is a small film, with characters that are as real as a major studio production based on a television and a pop-culture phenomenon can be. But in its own small ways it takes stabs at questions of morality, of faith, of spiritual interference, of signs that are as big as they can be. There’s George W. Bush and J. Edgar Hoover hanging side by side, and that would be on portraits (Feel free to interpret). The plot is often relegated to perform the services of a backdrop, and never does it takes precedence over the central questions. This is about them, about Scully and Mulder, and the plot serves as a means for them to reconcile with themselves. And for us to ponder at great length about it all, preferably in the middle of the night. Often it happens, that some films seem to light up my brain cells, and usually it is them which I enjoy writing about the most. And not surprisingly I would have watched these films in the night. Writing about them, well past midnight, evokes a sense of their atmosphere around me, and I remember all over again why I started in the first place. The X-Files is a lonely film, and it uses that loneliness as its atmosphere. I remember Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind and how it uses the night to create a sense of intrigue and fascination coupled with the fear for the unknown. The X-Files isn’t set in the dark per se, but it feels like it is, or maybe it was inspired by night.
    Not many films know how to create an atmosphere about its subject. The key I believe in plots like this is to have the apt setting. The same thing unraveling itself on an urban stage and half the mystery would have vanished. There’s lots of snow, and the houses are surrounded by just that correct amount of wilderness. There aren’t many people so to speak. Now that I remember, there’s a minor chase scene on legs, but I feel the overall sense is one of calmness. The takes are long, and they’re shot with a static camera and as a result they involve us. We’re almost always presented a clear and composed picture, and that is because this is a film not as much about its missing people as it is about the beliefs about its central ones. There’s a little boy down at the Convent Hospital who has been diagnosed with Sandhoff disease (a terminal illness related to the central nervous system), and he’s sure to die if Scully doesn’t risk a bone marrow treatment. She Googles and there is a clue regarding the missing women waiting for her in that research, if only she would look. She doesn’t believe in psychics, and she doesn’t want to get back into the drudgeries and darkness of active investigation. I believe Scully has always been the reluctant one, whereas Mulder the more enthusiastic, and that always pulls Scully back in. Does Mulder himself believe the psychic? The psychic says he hears barking dogs in his visions. A tissue sample of the severed arm found earlier reveals doses of an animal tranquilizer. There’re plot contrivances if you choose to look at them that way, but how else can one show divine intervention. The so called signs so to speak. I went ahead and sought plausible explanations behind each of them, and I believe I found them. That makes me realize this is a superior thriller, because it is posing questions and arguments rather than tagging alongside one firm point of view.
    I learn the show has been off the air for a good part of six years. I have only ever watched four episodes, at various points in its run, and the one thing that seems to have stayed with me is the chemistry between Anderson and Duchovny. If ever an official list of the all-time great partners was released, they would be right up there. I knew they cared greatly about each other, but of what little I saw, I hadn’t had an idea if there were matters of the heart involved. I was silly, I know, for how can such warmth and affection not infect with feelings so serious. There’s a sequence where Scully and Mulder are in bed and the title of a book near to them has the title Beautiful People Having Sex. I’m not sure if that book was chosen just for the sake of its title. They’ve been in love, always been in love, and I guess it is the sort of cliffhanger television series derive great TRP from. If they would end up together or not. But of course they would. I wouldn’t be able to say for the fans but I have to admit I’m hooked. I wish to see how this beautiful relationship grew. It is much like Gordon and Batman, one that is based on eternal emotions of mutual faith and respect. Right now, I have probably realized why I missed the bus on television. They used to air it at 1830 on Sunday evenings on Star World. With all the commercial breaks and all, The X-Files for me, was simply the wrong series at the wrong time in the wrong place. Yes, in the darkness of the cinema hall, that is where. That is where The X-Files belongs.

Monday, October 06, 2008

HELLBOY II THE GOLDEN ARMY : MOVIE REVIEW

Cast: Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Doug Jones, Anna Walton, Luke Gross
Director: Guillermo Del Toro
Runtime: 120 min.
Rating: ***
Genre: Action, Fantasy

        I have a problem of simple logic here that drove me crazy during the X-Men films too. You see, Wolverine is the hero and all, but I mean he really doesn’t add up to a whole lot more than pure beastly power and metal fingers. The other character, the one who can control the weather and summon thunderstorms at will, Cyclops was it, she could cause a lot more damage. Yet she is always on the sidelines, and she never seems to put her huge source of potential energy to any effect. Now I know, Hellboy, he is plenty more powerful and resourceful than Wolverine, but when it comes to a horde of millions and millions of little creatures that feed on calcium and which reduce the human body to zilch within seconds, it makes for better practical application of fighting prowess if Liz just used her firepower straightaway. But no, they don’t, and a good part of time is spent where they just shoot valuable rounds at these creatures as two of the agents BPRD (Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense) are consumed totally, bones included. That is wrong, and borders on downright cruelty because this is a film suitable for kids and people are killed for no reason other than for the director to indulge in a vanity showcase of his imaginations. That makes me realize all the heart and compassion for all the creatures of the world in the film is shallow in nature. I mean, the forest king’s death is sad, but what of the giant monster that Hellboy lets die.
        Guillermo Del Toro might be a man the limits of whose imagination might not know finite boundaries, but I’m not sure he’s capable enough of channeling them in a manner so as to have his world engulf us, and more importantly impress upon us. I’m not sure he really bothers about economy to his style, nor does he exhibit any method to them, and as a result Hellboy II feels like a visual orgy, a vomit of creatures that have sprung uncontrollably out of his mind and have been hurled upon us. It is a different matter altogether that the troll market he has designed feels straight out of any Star Wars movie with strangeness being the order of the day, and there’s a whimper of an action sequence where a giant forest king attacks Manhattan and when destroyed dissolves into greenery all around reminding us of that Miyazaki masterpiece Princess Mononoke. It seems Del Toro, throughout the film, doesn’t really know how to thread these imaginations into proper and involving action sequences, and everyone of them start abruptly and end abruptly with little or no cohesiveness to them. They’re merely gigantic, and not necessarily entertaining or satisfying. There is a left a resident feeling that there could have been something more done.
        Now, such problems arise because of a weak script and Hellboy II has a terrible one. It is clunky, and it has little or no structure. The developments are either clumsy or downright obligatory. And there’re loopholes so huge and so deep they could have been filled with the Golden Army ten times over. Not that I necessarily mind that, because Hellboy II is a cheerfully stupid film, and admittedly so. But when Liz burns an artifact in the dying minutes of the film, it questions the very existence of the whole film, and such flaws leave a bitter taste in the mouth. I’m ever ready to submit myself to the magic of a film and ready to overlook minor flaws so that I could stay in the spell. But Hellboy II had flaws that bludgeoned this spell, howsoever willing I was to look away from them. Flaws of such nature make you question yourself if the film deserved your investment in it at any level except for the escapist sort, because in its turn it has just cheated us by being careless and shallow.
        As I say in such cases, I say again, with a shrug, never mind. This isn’t a bad film, but it isn’t too good either. This is stupid, fantastic, rip roaring, spectacular and an altogether enjoyable ride, and it is a film you wouldn’t bother to remember once you’ve reached your house. It feels better than its predecessor because it feels considerably more fun. It is an exercise in self-delight, and I like it all the more for there’s a joke or a witty one-liner around the corner. Not that all of them stick tight anywhere near the high part of the humor index, but they’ve been written well enough and delivered effectively enough to at least put a smile on your face. Of course, I maintain, humor in films as these is nothing but an armor, a garb behind which films cloak their inherent weaknesses. It is a growing trend of late, I guess, where films acquire a tongue-in-cheek tone just because they couldn’t possibly play it straight and let audiences ridicule them. Films use tones from specific genres – comedy, horror – because these are considerably easy to hide behind. And that doesn’t stop me from enjoying this film, although I wouldn’t invest myself in them. And now that I have analyzed a film that doesn’t deserve it and cannot stand it, I’ll do it no more and leave it halfway. Like not dwelling upon the Prince Nuada character is a googly, whose motivations and principles do not exactly cut a picture of consistency. As I say, never mind.
        Hellboy II doesn’t necessarily depend upon its predecessor for its existence, and if you haven’t seen it, you could easily walk in here and not fear about being bothered or confused. Ages and ages ago, when all the creatures lived in mutual harmony, greed consumed us humans and we were involved in a great war with elves on the other side. There was created an industible…er…indestructible and relentless army of machines called the Golden Army controlled only by the person who wears a crown. The Elvish king sees the carnage his golden army reins upon the humans and is taken by great grief, and thus there’s a truce where humans get the cities and elves the forests. The king’s son Prince Nuada hates the human race and vows to return back to wrest the lands from us, because we humans are selfish and we build parking lots and shopping malls and we don’t respect our nature. I know, it is a stupid line of thought, but then do not let it bother you. Nuada returns and Hellboy is on our side, and so are Liz and Abe Sapien, and so is a new and a rather curious entrant to the series, whom I’ll leave you to discover.
        The plotline and how it develops is entirely predictable, and what you would enjoy is not the what but the how. Everything runs at a decent pace, and the film even has time on hand to celebrate the romantic subplots when two characters exercise their vocal chords. Speaking of which, there’re quite a few running jokes between Liz and Hellboy and it is their chemistry that provides great heart to the film. When actors enjoy themselves, it does rub onto us, and Perlman and Blair are obviously enjoying themselves. They’re goofy, and we love them. It is with these established characters that Del Toro feels comfortable with.
        Let me describe the action sequences, which is one obvious area where Hellboy II improves upon its predecessor. First, there’re lots of them. Second, none of them exactly delivers a knock out punch. Yeah, they do punch and kick each other and they do fly all over the place, but I didn’t necessarily feel the rush. A fight in the troll market between Hellboy and a monster doesn’t exactly realize its full potential. I know, a fight is a fight, but someone got to admit here that a fight’s got to be more than just punches, kicks, swears, witty one-liners and flying at random. No one has cared to design the fights in a way so as to be memorable, and here they’re just serviceable. Supposed to be big, but all of them end with a whimper. Yes there’re eye-popping moments like the climax where Hellboy and his comrades battle the Golden Army for a few minutes, but they’re merely moments. George Lucas was a master of creating and designing fighting sequences, and realizing them to their fullest extent too. He knew that pitting them against each other is just half the trick; the true test is how to end it. Del Toro doesn’t know that one bit. Never mind. Hellboy II is an efficient film, and taking a cue from Honda CD 100’s slogan I would only offer you one piece of advice – watch it, enjoy it, forget it.

Friday, October 03, 2008

DRONA: MOVIE REVIEW

Cast: Abhishek Bachchan, Kay Kay Menon, Priyanka Chopra, Jaya Bachchan
Director: Goldie Behl
Runtime: 173 min. (citation needed)
Rating: ****
Genre: Fantasy, Action, Adventure

        The deal between Steven Spielberg’s DreamWorks and Reliance industries couldn’t possibly dream of a grander catalyst than Drona, which just might be the big-budgeted blockbuster that Hindi film industry has been waiting since long. This is one gorgeous extravaganza where everything that director Goldie Behl could summon by way of his imagination has been painted, and often thrown onto the screen, and then the languid pace of the film feels as if it is reveling in that moment of glory. This is an epic spectacle, a fantastical showdown between forces as apparent as a white good and a black evil the kind of which we haven’t had in many a year. This isn’t one of those false superhero films where a hick thrust with superpowers from an alien source is confused between wooing his lady love by way of dancing, and running and flying all over the place. The stakes are high, and boy, what a glorious visual treat it is. And if it fails woefully in addressing smaller issues in doing that, such as for instance the clunky nature of the plot overall, I have no complains whatsoever.
        Drona feels like that rare adventure film that is believable although it is set in a real world. It is ridden with fantasy, there is sorcery, there’re swords and there’re cars. And they’re all seamlessly woven into a tale that travels many lands, providing breathtaking sights and moments. At its heart lay that much sought relic churned out in that most famous of all chapters of the Indian mythology – the jar of amrit. The Gods had hidden much of the millions of the artifacts churned out of the ocean in the deepest corners of the universe, and to keep the amrit safe from the Asuras, they chose Earth. To protect it there was chosen a great warrior who was named Drona. And ever since, the lineage has borne the responsibility. We’re given all this information even before the title appears, and it is all via images lush with color and whose magnificence made me to wonder how good a comic book series based on the same might turn out. After having seen the film, I’m sure it wouldn’t be a bad idea.
        We meet young Aditya who’s much mistreated by his foster mother, his aunt actually. His uncle though knows better, and knows the special place this boy has in the greater scheme of things. These are a stretch of sequences that are terribly contrived, they are constructed hopelessly, and the dialogs that are spoken might sink you in despair. More so after that promising introduction. Much of the problem that the film has lay in the initial half hour where the shadow of Harry Potter looms large and we see the film try desperately to convey us the sadness and loneliness that surrounds an older Aditya played by an uninspired Abhishek Bachchan. It is these smaller things I spoke of earlier, and it feels as if the film doesn’t have its heart in it. They feel like a vestigial limb, shot tackily and attached obligatorily, and if there’s any purpose to them it is to take us to the part where the film gets big. Real big. And here, the film acquires a great form of its own, when the villain, an asura named Riz Raizada in his quest for the amrit meets and recognizes Aditya as the true Drona. Their fates locked since time immemorial, and the chase for that jar of immortality turns into a juggernaut of gigantic and wildly imaginative set-pieces and props, and they just keep rolling on. Much like the Indiana Jones films only that this time it is a lot more serious.
        I have always been a firm believer that a great action is great because it hasn’t been presented in slow-mo. Kinetics is a much important part of the overall experience and the sheer exhilaration which results from viewing things move fast and furious is irreplaceable to me. That is not to be seen in Drona, and that is a problem for me. Not for you. But tell you what, an action scene in real-time has the feel of reality, and one in slow-mo as here might feel from a land of fantasy. Drona curiously might be a bit of both, and how it achieves it is something I would want to study on the second viewing I have planned for me this weekend. And to savor that especially long and ambitious chase scene that involves a train and a horse and is a wonder to behold just because someone had the audacity to conceive and realize it. I’m sure there wasn’t any CGI involved, and it feels like one of the great action sequence of our times. There was utter silence in the hall for what seemed like a good ten minutes, and I’m sure there were many a dropped jaws. Mine included. There’s an action sequence at the end which in a moment of glorious preposterousness has Drona and his bodyguard Sonia hang arm in arm doting each other while they fight off the evil force. And the feat to applaud here is that it doesn’t feel out of place or out of tone. I would recommend a studio executive from Hollywood to see the film and learn the fact that movie-making is much more of an economical proposition in India, and an investment might result in great imagination being channeled into a great vision. For instance, there’s a remarkable prop in the middle of the desert constructed of stone and that has been envisioned as homage to chakravyuha. It is a shame nothing’s done with it, and it disappears out of sight in a whimper. An executive with a trained eye might have sensed the opportunity at hand.
        Director Goldie Behl previously made Bas Itna sa Khwab Hai, and I wonder if he’s gravitated by stories involving individuals. Drona might offer the premise of a world whose fate hangs in balance, but there aren’t many civilians to speak of. We don’t see people, and the landscape is often filled by only the principal characters. I do not know what to make of it, but the resident feeling within me is of a barren and lonely world. Does it externalize the inner fears of Drona? I have no idea, and if it were not for the last frame, the film might well have been interpreted as the fantasies and dreams of a lonely man. An orphan. Behl is clumsy and when it comes to the insecurities of the young Drona he might not imagine beyond the very obvious, but he wraps that cliché later on in such a great visual imagery that we find it altogether novel. The beauty about Abhishek Bachchan’s performance is that he gives the character a subdued and vulnerable touch and adds great determination to them which doesn’t feel false, unlike the film’s initial few missteps. There’re doppelgangers in both camps, both internal and external, some mastered and some enslaved. I was reminded of The Prestige, and an evil force who is so narcissistic so as to surround himself with versions of his own self, and so evil so as to then destroy it with great disdain fascinates me. Kay Kay is a good actor but his move to overplay the villain fails terribly. It feels he’s trying to much and without understanding the character, and that there’s a certain obligation that is driving his performance. One that believes an actor has to be loud in a fantasy film. Something inside me is making me imagine Irfaan Khan in the role, and what a great villain he would have been.
        Behl’s film doesn’t have any subtexts and everything to be realized is there on the screen to be seen. He does goof up on the small bits which often are so bad they are downright laughable. But that is because his heart and his eyes are somewhere else. A friend of mine who shared my anticipation for the film asked me to describe it briefly, without sharing too much of by way of the plot. I told him it was loud it was flashy it was often cheesy it was often dumb it was fantastic and it was everything we expected. It was long and I wouldn’t have minded to stay for another half hour. And I would have consumed much more of that breathtaking view of the desert and sea colliding into a horizon of their own. I’m not sure but I think we might have a first of sorts here – an epic swashbuckling sword-and-sorcery blockbuster. And it might have not arrived at a more opportune time.


Note: As I searched for an image to attach alongside I review I learned that a comic book adaptation was in fact being released, an image of which could be found at http://movies.indiatimes.com/articleshow/3541444.cms. And downloads regarding the same could be found at http://downloads.movies.indiatimes.com/drona/drona.html. This looks like something I would be one of the buyers of for sure.