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Movie review: 'World War Z' will leave you breathless
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Ed Symkus reviews movies for GateHouse News Service. A longtime features writer and film critic for TV, radio, newspapers and magazines, he can often be found at film junkets talking with celebrities. Find out what they have to say here.
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World War Z
Gerry and Karin (Brad Pitt and Mireille Enos) do their best to protect their kids from unknown horrors in "World War Z."
June 21, 2013 5:16 a.m.

World War Z

The world is a mess at the beginning of this tense and intense potboiler of an apocalyptic thriller. Little snatches of radio and TV broadcasts reveal the usual bad news about the environment and political unrest and, sticking out just a little louder than other items, something about martial law being put into effect.

But the Philadelphia-based Lane family has heard it all before. Gerry and Karin (Brad Pitt and Mireille Enos) are the loving parents of two young daughters. He’s recently retired from some unnamed but dangerous job and is now a home dad, happy to be back with his family. A post-breakfast drive through the city has them all ensconced in playing guessing games together. The world is nuts, but they’re just fine.

But, they must be wondering, why is the traffic so bad today? Why, Karin asks, are there so many helicopters above? Why are police zooming by on motorcycles? What was that explosion? Where is everybody running to and from? Who the hell is that deformed, snarling guy who just busted through our car window with his head and is now trying to bite us?

“World War Z,” the ferocious and fast-paced story of a worldwide zombie plague, and the near-impossible odds of successfully fighting it, sure doesn’t waste any time getting started, or letting its audience know what it’s in for. This is a grim, ultraviolent, high body count of a movie that has surprisingly little gore and hardly any cursing. What it does have is a compelling, believable storyline (meaning that if there was one day a zombie outbreak, it could easily happen like this one) and fantastic visuals that show huge masses of (former) humanity swarming and churning and rampaging out of control all over the world.

If you can’t feel it just from reading this, know that by the end of the film you’ll be exhausted, and even while watching it you’ll be gasping for breath. Also know that if you’re at all faint of heart or are not a fan of being shocked (as in zombies screaming and jumping out at you in full chomp mode from dark places in 3-D), this movie is probably not for you.

But then you’d miss a very strong Brad Pitt performance. His Gerry, who, it turns out, used to work for the U.N. as an “investigator” – that’s about all the script gives us – aside from being a family man, is smart and brave and just a little foolhardy. Because people know that he knows what he’s doing, Gerry is recruited back into his old job, with the carrot of his family’s safety hanging before him. His orders: Find out what’s going on!

What might be most fascinating about “World War Z” is that it was directed by Marc Forster, whose resumé runs the gamut from “Monster’s Ball” to “The Kite Runner” to “Quantum of Solace.” This is one director who doesn’t want to be pigeonholed, and he proves here that he’s as adept at adrenaline-fueled horror as anything he’s done previously.

The film does have a history of script problems, and had approximately 40 minutes rewritten, then reshot after it was first completed. But it sure all works now, whether tackling the issue of finding out how the epidemic started, explaining that the creatures are attracted to loud noises, taking time for a few quiet moments between Gerry and his wife on very long-distance phone calls, or bringing the audience along on a very interesting airplane ride.

My only complaint is that the fine actor David Morse, playing an ex-CIA agent, is relegated to one scene, in a jail cell. But that’s OK, because then we’re right back to the jittery, scary stuff, along with a few well-placed laughs, but only of the nervous variety, and an oddly somber but somehow hopeful ending.

Ed Symkus covers movies for More Content Now. 

WORLD WAR Z

Written by Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard, Damon Lindelof; directed by Marc Forster

With Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos

Rated PG-13

 

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