Friday, 4 March 2011

Knight and Day

UK DVD release date: 30th November 2010
Certificate: 12A
Running time: 100 mins
Director: James Mangold
Starring: Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz, Peter Sarsgaard
Genre: Action
UK distributor: Fox
Format: DVD/Blu-Ray
Country: USA

On the run and under surveillance by the FBI Roy Miller’s (Cruise) not so chance encounters with June (Diaz) sees her boarding a flight that will change her life in ways that she couldn’t ever imagine. Identified as a possible co-conspirator June is allowed to board in an attempt to execute them both. On the ground and on the lamb the pair are an unlikely partnership that must fight just to stay alive.

The spy on the run is a genre that American cinema is well versed in, Cruise in particular has seen all the APB’s and lived to tell the tale on a number of times. From the get go it’s obvious that Tom’s not in the fully serious spy mode ala Ethan Hunt (Mission Impossible) or the cold blooded killer of Collateral, which he was stunning in. Rather it’s a hybrid of Hunt with the likable charm of Jerry Maguire and some of the comedic timing of Les Grosman (Tropic Thunder). The set pieces, like Cruise are played for kicks and are well executed. The fight sequence at 30,000ft between Ray and the plane of Federal agents is well choreographed and played for the physical comedy that can taken from it. Somewhere between Bruce Lee and Buster Keaton and though isn’t laugh out loud hilarious works on a human level that can be lost in the action genre. Similarly the landing in the cornfield is exhilarating one moment and playfully quirky the next. This is pretty much the trend for the rest of the film as trouble rears it’s head, Cruis smiles and is charming in the moments of mortal danger therefore funny/harmlessly sociopathic. There’s normally something extremely enjoyable about Tom in this kind of form as it lends itself to, what we perceive as a normally serious man, being able to poke fun at not just his carefully crafted star persona but also himself. He’s on good form and is every inch the action comedy hero in Knight and Day (think Schwarzenegger in True Lies) but there is a darkness that almost demands to be brought out in the role that Cruise doesn’t seem to bring to the table and leaves the audience feeling uneasy in his performance.
 
Diaz (as June Havens) is somewhat underused, she flexes her comedy muscle well in several scenes and in the action sequences like the freeway, for example, provides most of the opportunities for comic relief. The only problem with it is that it’s not much of a role for her. Cruises’ role is clearly designed for him, it has his mannerisms built into the script, unfortunately, this is not the case for the female lead and is typically the cause in the action genre. Her acting chops were on display in Being John Malkovich and Any Given Sunday, yet since then she has kept to the shallow end of the pool and in Knight and Day it’s more of the same which we have come to expect. Screaming at gun fires and, for the most part, her dialogue to geared towards driving the back story of Roy and progressing the narrative of the film. It’s something of a thankless job as the actor typically ends up with a little more than a two dimensional character. Peter Sarsgaard (Fitzgerald) is a fantastic actor and a real addition to any case so it’s almost a crime with a capital punishment that he’s so underutilized. The role of the hunter (Sarsgaard) to the hunted (Cruise) is one that typically is a rather straight forward task as it’s all about their want to bring in the protagonist leaving little room for character but it’s almost impossible to think of another ‘spy on the run’ feature in which the hunter has so little screen time and when on screen has so little to do. Likewise with Simon, who we’re led to believe is Roy’s close friend and co-creator of the battery (played by Paul Dano). Dano is an indefinable talent simply awaiting his moment at the top of the mountain. Excellent in Little Miss Sunshine, as powerful and commanding as Daniel Day Lewis in There Will Be Blood he has a wonderful awkwardness that is so brilliant when you try and imagine how exactly he and Roy became friends. Yet he is given very little, enough to help flesh out the central character but is used for little more than pointing out the revelation that “people wot are good at science and stuff are nerds” which is again sad but he truly does shine even if it is for a limited amount of time.
 
Visually the film is extremely pleasing and you would expect nothing less from Mangold with films like Walk the Line, Girl, Interrupted and 3:10 to Yuma under his belt. The tropical locale of Roy’s hideaway evokes parallels of Bond, as does Austria with Mission Impossible and Germany with The Bourne Supremacy all of which are intentional and all, though could be treading old ground, manage to look and fell fresh. Such is the strength of Mangold’s eye behind the camera he could shoot a film in your living and make it look and feel new and fresh to you. John Powell’s score is excellent as it manages to strike the expected action movie cords while at the same time deliver something innovative and at times quirky, at others soft and personal but always excellent.

The problem with Knight and Day is although it has moments of comedy, the drugging motif is wonderful and allows for parts of the film to be experienced devoid of action which is extremely brave for an action film. The actions sequences are great, wonderfully staged, brilliantly executed by all involved and well placed, even the sometimes forced chemistry has genuine moments of emotion; especially June’s visit to Roy’s parents but all these moments are just that. For the most part the film just isn’t very good. Cruise rarely gets out of second gear and at times looks to be tiring after two decades at the top, the rest of the cast are given the narrative scraps to fight over and are only ever allowed to be engaging when they’re filling in some of Roy’s back story. The plot calls for an agent who has apparently gone off the rails but the danger is never there and the motives of Roy and in turn Fitzgerald are never the mystery that the narrative calls for. As a spy film goes Knight and Day is lop sided, heavy handed and arguably would have been better with a lead that could play the ambiguous moments in the narrative to their optimum level of darkness that would have lead to a more thrilling ride.







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