Cast: Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, Daniella Kertesz, Sterling Jerins, Abigail Hargrove (also look out for Matthew Fox as a soldier; he doesn’t have much to do but it’s nice to see Jack from Lost getting some work)
Everyone with an internet connection and affection for film knows the troubles behind World War Z, Brad Pitt’s adaptation of the extremely popular Max Brooks 2006 novel which tells stories of a world after the zombie apocalypse from the view of many individuals. Release dates were delayed, endings were rewritten, and even the novel’s author commented (albeit in a kindly fashion) that the finished product seemed to have no semblance to his written work. To summarize, no one was expecting too much when this film released this weekend.
Here’s hoping that word of mouth spreads as fast as the depicted contagion and people give it a chance, because it is a smart, taut thriller that does not disappoint.
The main character, Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) is a former U.N. employee that finds himself along with his family caught amidst the chaos of a viral outbreak erupting in Philadelphia (and the rest of the world, they shortly learn). After a few harrowing close calls he manages to guide them to an extraction point where a former colleague has a helicopter – and a job – waiting for him. Gerry is convinced to travel out into a now-plagued world to search for the source of the outbreak – which some governments are using the dreaded “z” word to describe – in an effort to develop a cure.
The set pieces in World War Z are impressive, and the film definitely lives up to its blockbuster intent in terms of action. To be honest, the only thing disappointing is that the multiple trailers eventually became so specific that it is easy for viewers to guess what action beat is coming next. That doesn’t make the spectacle any less impressive, but it does reduce the suspense and moments of surprise a bit.
Even more impressive than the action (and trust me, there’s a lot of running around going on…between seeing this, Man of Steel and Fast & Furious 6 over the past week, I need a drama or romcom to slow things down) is the fact that World War Z is a thinking person’s movie. The movie never explicitly spells out what Lane’s former job was, exactly, at the U.N., but whatever it was involved some type of investigations in hot spots and war zones, so he’s plenty clever enough to string together various clues that pop up during his travels to use his brains as much as his legs (and a crowbar here and there) to stay alive. It may not be the smartest thriller ever released, and some of the clues are rather obvious upon first viewing, but World War Z has enough smarts to make impact with most of these considerations.
The human elements of the film are also well done. While Gerry races around the world, his family (a wife and two daughters) are left behind to wait and wonder whether Dad will be able to help in stopping the madness that lurks on every horizon. Nobody is particularly well-developed from a character standpoint here, but the movie is a snapshot of a few hectic days after the zombie apocalypse, so it’s not hard to buy into the relationships, and the small moments that do occur on a human level are righteously earned. One that stuck out to me the most was Pitt’s character and a doctor discussing what has and may be sacrificed during such horrific circumstances. Emotion and regret flow in this scene through Pitt with conviction and ease, showing that he still is one of the better male leads working in Hollywood these days.
Is World War Z the Brad Pitt zombie show? To a certain extent, but all of the supporting characters have enough to do and provide ample support to his Gerry Lane character. Everyone i has a purpose, and thankfully most of the cast isn’t relegated to becoming zombie snacks. I will say that I’m not sure if I would consider this movie as entertaining and (mostly) successful in its efforts as I do if it weren’t for Pitt’s presence in the lead role. But all this does is cement Pitt’s continued status as a competent leading man (no surprise there, and yes I am an unapologetic fan of the man).
Flaws? There are a few, but to be honest I wasn’t in ‘nitpick’ mode while watching this Thursday night so your mileage may vary. As I’ve stated a few times thus far this is a reasonably intelligent film, so you don’t need to see every single thing that’s happening to fill in the blanks. I can certainly anticipate some people grumbling about possible inconsistencies in the third act, but most viewers can engage their own grey matter to decide how it works for them. I did have some trouble understanding a few lines here and there, but that may have been the audio setup in the theater needing a tweak here and there rather than truly gargled conversation.
Let’s close this review with a quick discussion of that third act. Reviews have been divisive on how things switch gear from wham-bam action-set-piecey scenes to a more intimate setting to end the film. Some have had problems with that but quite honestly this reviewer thinks that this is the aspect that really makes the film work. Before the third act all we’ve seen is dizzying hordes of infected savages rolling towards the camera…sure that’s satisfying but there’s only so many CGI crowds one can take before such spectacle is rendered at least partially ineffective. This third act gets more intimate with the threat and those in danger, and because of this the film earns its resolution.
That’s twice now that I’ve used the term “earn” in this review. And that just about sums it up. World War Z is not the best zombie film ever made, but it’s also not like (read: copying) a lot of them. Pitt and company succeed in telling a good story with effective and convincing acting in both explosive and quiet, thoughtful moments. If you were or are the least bit interested in this movie – and you really can discard all worries about the discontent that swirled around this property during production – you should definitely check it out. It’s worth your while.