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Viggo Mortensen in Everybody Has a Plan

Man of Steel is a self-consciously epic re-imagining of the Superman story, first told in print in the 1930s and most recently rebooted on screen by Bryan Singer as Superman Returns just pri­or to the com­mence­ment of my review­ing career in 2006. It’s remark­able both for the scale of the pro­duc­tion, the stakes for pro­du­cers DC and Warner Bros, and for the degree to which I dis­liked it. Usually, I don’t get too riled up about block­buster com­ic book fantasy pic­tures – they are either more enter­tain­ing or less – but this one got under my skin so much I was actu­ally quite angry by the time the clos­ing cred­its finally rolled.

Man of Steel posterI don’t have room here (because there are actu­al good films I’d rather talk about) to tear the Man of Steel apart but I will float a few thoughts that have been both­er­ing me recently about block­buster movies gen­er­ally: It seems to me that the huge amounts of com­put­ing horsepower that dir­ect­ors have at their fin­ger­tips nowadays is being used, for the most part, to des­troy.

I’m get­ting very tired of watch­ing build­ings, streets and even entire cit­ies razed digit­ally to the ground without a second thought for the (admit­tedly still digit­al) people inhab­it­ing them. This is an arms race and some­how dir­ect­ors (like MoS’s Zack Snyder) have decided that every new tent­pole needs to use even more ima­gin­a­tion to des­troy even more stuff and kill even more people who will go unmourned by the her­oes sup­posedly there to pro­tect them.

Back in 1990, Bruce Willis (as John McClane in Die Hard II) raced across a freez­ing run­way car­ry­ing hand­made torches to try and pre­vent an air­liner full of pas­sen­gers from crash­ing – the res­ult of the vil­lain’s chilling recal­ib­ra­tion of the air­port radar. After he had failed, you could see the tor­ment on Willis’s face and it affected the char­ac­ter­’s beha­viour through the rest of the film. It kind of broke him and you can argue that he has nev­er been the same ‘happy-go-lucky’ John McClane since.

This year, in G.I. Joe: Retaliation, the vil­lain (played by Jonathan Pryce) hijacks a nuc­le­ar weapon and uses it to des­troy London. All of it. And at the end, instead of remem­ber­ing the eight mil­lion people who were sac­ri­ficed, the team stand around pat­ting each oth­er on the back and giv­ing each oth­er medals! Even Spock in Star Trek Into Darkness has the decency to be passive-aggressive about the loss of his entire plan­et, but we don’t dwell on it and quickly move on.

Man of Steel delights in destruc­tion, reel­ing off 9/11 trauma-triggering moments with reck­less aban­don. I’m not sure it’s the wan­ton digit­al destruc­tion that I’m so offen­ded by, rather than the lack of grief. In The Avengers, for example, we feel more strongly for Iron Man’s close brush with mor­tal­ity (and vul­ner­ab­il­ity) than for all the hon­est cit­izens who per­ished and the mil­lions of oth­ers who lost their homes and their jobs.

There has to be anoth­er way and – if you’ll allow me to be unfash­ion­able for a moment – we already have a mod­el. In the most suc­cess­ful film of all time, the greatest amount of com­put­ing power ever devoted to a motion pic­ture was pressed into ser­vice to cre­ate a world, to invent a civil­isa­tion and then to pro­duce a story about pro­tect­ing that civil­isa­tion from us. And audi­ences respon­ded to it in record num­bers. Being pos­it­ive, who’d a thunk it?

Everybody Has a Plan posterTwo films that do deserve your atten­tion will be a little harder to find than the Caped Crusader, above, but are worth seek­ing out. In Everybody Has a Plan, we get two Viggo Mortensens going out of their way to prove the exact oppos­ite. Nobody knows what the Hell they are doing in this Argentinian thrill­er in which Viggo gives his flu­ent Spanish a run play­ing identic­al twins who have ended up on the oppos­ite side of the tracks.

Agustín is a big city pae­di­at­ri­cian with a nice apart­ment and a beau­ti­ful wife intent on adopt­ing them a fam­ily. Brother Pedro stayed on the remote island where they grew up and now keeps bees and assists with the occa­sion­al kid­nap­ping. Suffering from a ter­min­al dis­ease, Pedro makes his way to the big city look­ing for help. His unsat­is­fied broth­er busks him­self a plan which – as the say­ing goes – will change both of their lives forever. Everybody Has a Plan is a ter­rif­ic, atmo­spher­ic, thrill­er with Viggo at his soul­ful best.

White Lies posterEx-patriate Mexican dir­ect­or Dana Rotberg has been temp­ted back behind the cam­era by South Pacific Pictures’ John Barnett and by Witi Ihimaera’s novella “Medicine Woman”. The res­ult­ing fea­ture, now known as White Lies, is a slow burn­er of a female-driven drama that packs an emo­tion­al wal­lop. Muso Whirimako Black plays Paraiti, a heal­er in 1920s Te Urewera, scarred in more ways than one by the colo­ni­al forces’ destruc­tion of her vil­lage while she was a child.

Reluctantly enlis­ted to per­form a late abor­tion on the white woman from the big house (Antonia Prebble), she changes her mind and decides to save the baby – a baby whose arrival threatens to rock the care­fully bal­anced rela­tion­ships between Prebble’s Rebecca, her maid (Rachel House) and the soon-to-return hus­band and master.

I want to be care­ful that I don’t reveal too much – even to those who have read Ihimaera’s ori­gin­al story from which there is some diver­gence. Suffice to say that the long and intense birth scene is one of the most remark­able ever to fea­ture in a New Zealand film – power­ful, mys­tic­al, pain­ful and redempt­ive; absent the usu­al cheap emo­tion­al short­cuts. It’s the pro­found centrepiece of a film where the begin­ning and end don’t quite reach the same level. I’m not sure why but it might have some­thing to do with the multi-translated dia­logue (from Spanish to a kind of stil­ted colo­ni­al English) feel­ing life­less com­pared to the beau­ti­ful images on screen.