Sunday, June 27, 2010
Knight and Day
The early reception of Knight and Day has been a confusing one considering the prospect of a summer action movie starring the reliable Tom Cruise and the ceaselessly sexy Cameron Diaz. By watching the trailers for the film, it's understandable where this disinterest could stem from. It's a summer movie that, surprisingly, is not interested in telling the viewer everything to expect before they see the movie. That's because the movie is more than just the dazzling stunts featured in the previews.
Knight and Day surprises early and often with its clever ingenuity and engaging production work. This shouldn't come as a surprise to movie fans with humble director James Mangold at the helm. I say humble only because, in the summer season of "so-and-so presents:" and another "M. Night Shyamalan film," Mangold is perfectly capable of making a good movie without stamping his name all over it. This is one of his first films Mangold hasn't also written or conceptualized. For those of you who don't recognize his name, he is responsible for writing and direction the impressionable hits Walk The Line and Girl, Interrupted. While the script for Knight comes from a relative no-name writer, Mangold has an eye for choosing them.
The film is one of those summer actions flicks that works because it's more concerned with the story than the action. It relaxes the audience into enjoying the movie because in the opening minutes you aren't saturated with a ten minute long shoot-out. Instead, the film shows off clever camera work and visual story telling to introduce us to our main characters. What follows is a film that is really at heart a bit of an indulgent female fantasy. Cameron Diaz's June runs into charming, smooth talking Roy who sweeps her off her feet and takes her to romantic, scenic locations across the world. He is at the same time, June's protector and equal. Diaz's character doesn't fall into the mold of a spy-movie "Bond Chick" who is helpless without Bond and grows faint at the sight of blood. Her character is tough and capable and at one point she remarks, "My dad always wanted boys."
When the action sequences come, which they do as it is a spy movie, they're refreshing. The action sequences rely heavily on real life effects rather than CGI, and the movie sports a stunt crew of more than sixty. With the exception of a few gun fights, the action doesn't last long enough to wear out it's welcome. One fault of the film is that it feels as if due to time or budget it would have liked to tell a longer story. A strange plot device is used to rush us through potential action sequences making a couple of moments light in explanation. In hindsight though, maybe this is a good thing. It gives the movie more time to focus on developing characters. Once again crediting the camera work, the sequences are more loyal to classic action movies like The French Connection than to the new trend of hyper-active editing. Since the film is dialogue heavy, it shouldn't go unnoticed that Mangold knows when to have fun with the camera, and when to pull back and keep things simple.
Knight and Day is not without it's faults. Spy movies have never been known for falling entirely within realistic circumstances, but a lot of the film seems to rely on "luck" and suspension of disbelief. Characters often get from place to place with lightning speed, or overhear whispered, convenient plot devices through a glass window. The same plot device that allows us to thankfully skip burdening action sequences often allows the characters to move from place to place without any real explanation or connectivity. If the movie was sped up, one might even be reminded of this clever old spice ad http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ZOm2YhOI4c. While it's refreshing to see a powerful female character in a spy film, Diaz's transformation from hopeless ditz to dead-eye shooter is fast and unbelievable.
Knight and Day isn't trying to be a perfect movie, but it does a good job at remaining entertaining without falling into frenzied, summer-action hysteria. In the vein of action flicks, it's probably one of the cleverer ones we will see this summer. The plot is not one track and it takes the viewer for a couple of twists without becoming overly-predictable. Cruise and Diaz are backed up by a strong supporting cast including Peter Sarsgaard of An Education fame and continually impressive young actor Paul Dano. A worthwhile summer spy movie not to be judged by it's cover.