Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Sucker Punch

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 109 mins
Director: Zack Snyder
Starring: Emily Browning, Vanessa Hudgens, Abbie Cornish
Genre: Action/Fantasy
Country: USA

When Christopher Nolan opted out of directing the Superman reboot in order to give his full attention to his final installment in the Batman franchise, The Dark Knight Rises, there was a lot of fans of the DC comic that felt as if ‘The Man of Steel’ had taken his latest and most serious blow before even one can of film stock had been used.  The fact that Zack Snyder was selected to replace Nolan both as director and writer, adapting Nolan’s screenplay, is a sign of just how valuable his stock is in Hollywood.  Snyder has a very distinctive visual palette that he has used to create strikingly sumptuous films and his latest offering is no exception.

Browning as Baby Doll
Baby Doll’s (Emily Browning) world is shattered when her wealthy mother dies, making matters worse when her abusive stepfather discovers he has been completely removed from his late wife’s will he takes matters into his own hands putting in motion a chain of events that results in Baby Doll accidentally killing her little sister.  Institutionalized in the corrupt Lennox House, Baby Doll has just five days until the doctor, played by Jon Hamm (Mad Men, The Town) arrives to lobotomize her triggering her quest for freedom.

The film starts extremely promisingly, visually it’s what you have come to expect from Snyder, the fluidity of camera and use of CGI to create a world that is at the same time new and old.  Several of the smaller scenes in the film will be drown out by the enormous set pieces but deserve special mention for their understanding and execution of classic cinematic technique.  The track to Baby Doll’s eye as she watches her stepfather enter her little sister’s room, focusing on the reflection of him in her eye before passing through that illusion and into the room with him is wonderfully done, one can’t help but think that’s what Hitchcock had in mind all those years before.  Likewise the conversation in front of their mirrors between Sweet Pea (Cornish), Blondie (Hudgens) and Amber (Jamie Chung) plays brilliantly with reflection and perception in a way that is so wonderfully subtle and restraint but at the same time showy and in keeping with the lavish visuals that have been on offer.

High School Graduate
Emily Browning carries the film rather well.  She is, in all realities, a confident and accomplished performer that carries the narrative and shoulders the responsibility and is always believable in the extremely physical role of Baby Doll.  Carla Gugino (as Dr. Gorski) brings to the screen a wealth of acting experience for the young ladies around her to play off portraying a wonderfully conflicted woman who’s allowed your youth, morals and life to be sucked away in a world that has no room for sympathy.  Special mention to Vanessa Hudgens, who understandably, may have been considered to weakest link in the acting chain having graduated from the Disney world of High School Musical and in the process has developed both a sensual and a dark side that Sucker Punch hints towards and the promising future it should bring with it, comparisons are due to come with Mila Kunis.  Likewise the rest of the cast all perform solidly, especially Cornish (Sweet Pea) even though narratively speaking there’s very little to do. 

The soundtrack, like the visuals, is extremely rich with emotive covers of popular rock and pop tracks used to convey the psychological world of Baby Doll and even allows some time for Emily Browning to showcase her vocal talents.  Several of the set pieces in the fantasy reality are absolutely astounding, almost shocking how good they are.  The map quest in the trenches of World War 2 against the steam powered resurrected Nazis is the highest of high points, a cross between Female Agents, Hellboy and Katsuhiro Otomo’s Steamboy is an adrenaline fuelled, hyper charged, wonderfully absurd and original action film and is the film that most people will end up wanting to watch.  It ends all too quickly leaving the audience and film somewhat flat which is never honestly recovers from.

There are a lot of problems with Sucker Punch, more problems unfortunately than the striking visual plate can make up for.  The film supposedly exists on three plains of reality, it tells the story of an abused girl in a corrupt system but it doesn’t.  It also tells the allegorical story of “dancers” in a specialist establishment but it doesn’t, it doesn’t seem to know what story it’s telling.  The reality of the film is an interesting film in itself, available for cinematography of the grotesque but is quickly discarded for  the sub-reality of the burlesque.  As the film progresses the fantasy sequences take on greater importance and the sub-reality is marginalized leaving all the narrative and subtext to take place twice removed.  The film suffers from a lack of grounding in this respect as at no point is there a reference to the genuine plight of the girls.  It’s difficult to interact with a film that refuses to let you into it’s inner narrative workings as a lot of the time you will find yourself wondering why you should actually bother to care.  The lack of any real world grounding also weakens any possible allegorical reading or significance that might be born out of quests against Nazi, Orks, Dragons or Robots leaving you to simply skim across the superficial and enjoy the ride.  Only you can’t enjoy the ride as you’ve no real reason to believe you should be on the ride and it’s a ride for ridings sake which is pointless.

It’s quite fitting that Zack Snyder is so closely linked to Christopher Nolan as Sucker Punch is not unlike Nolan’s latest masterpiece Inception in that both films exist on multiple levels of reality and switch between them during the course of telling their stories.  Where Inception excels is, unfortunately, where Sucker Punch staggers and falls time and time again.  Sucker Punch is at best unbalanced and worse lacking in narrative, structure or direction.  The execution of the tri-existence narrative is heavy handed and bias towards the fantasy realm leaving the audience cold and the film little more than a compilation mash up of greatest hits.  Like a sucker punch to the face the visuals of the film will leave you reeling but it won’t last long.





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