Sunday, March 15, 2009

Who Is Watching The Watchmen? I am!

Set in a semi-fictional America - with all the familiar players - Zack Snyder's "Watchmen" is one of the most impressive movies I've seen so far this year. Snyder, cast and crew were dedicated to re-creating as truthfully as possible, the comic book elements fans of the series that its fans would demand. It paid off, but not without a few lulls. To his credit (and the horror of many) Snyder does not skimp one iota on the graphic violence, heightened sexuality and though deadly serious, liberally peppered with humor. The film opens with a brief scene of violence to set the time and planet jumping tale, followed by the most impressive opening credit sequence I've ever seen. In fact, the opening credits themselves - a recreation of many of the most iconic moments in 60's and 70's American history - are worth the ticket price. I found myself stirred emotionally, opening myself up for the insane, frightening world I was about to enter.

Most of the performance in Watchmen are adequate (Malin Akerman's Silk Spectre II) to top drawer (Billy Crudup's impressive Dr. Manhattan), with one particularly thrilling, pulse-pounding performance by Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach, arguably the heart and soul of the film. Haley's performance is so richly nuanced, starting at near fever pitch and growing in intensity from there. He is participant, narrator, catalyst for much of what happens through the film and clearly up to the challenge of a role that could easily have become . . . well, too cartoonish. He is, in a word: amazing.

Patrick Wilson is wonderful as the geekish, peaceable Dan/Night Owl, an endearing, soft-grained performance that tempers the often out-of-control violence in the world of Watchmen.

To Billy Crudup fell the unenviable task of making the elusive, cool-as-a-cucumber Dr. Manhattan a more likeable screen presence than he is required to be in the print-only version of the tale. He succeeds nicely, even stuck in the connundrum of wondering whether the human race is worth saving. It's a chilling proposition, particularly when we know/learn of Manhattan's previous human existence. The accident that created him is one of several moments in the film where Snyder expands the tension of the moment to let our emotions swell, this one (and the final scene) allowing for lump-in-the-throat heartbreak. Just as he is in the comics, Dr. Manhattan is naked through most of the film and eventually one gets used to the fact that almost every time we see him we're going to see his flacid blue penis. The CGI-transformed Crudup is brilliantly calm as he rationalizes his action (and non-action) to the point of frustration to all around him (especially Richard M. Nixon).

There will be plenty of naysayers, and fans who feel short-shrifted there favorite moments were not included, but such is the nature of filmmaking. Watchmen stayed with me through the night, and has, so far, dominated my thoughts today and I want to see it again soon. Even with its sometimes slowed down pacing, there is much to miss in this veritable "feast for the eyes" and I'd like to catch every frame as much as possible. I'd go just for Jackie Earle Haley's amazing tour-de-foce performance of Rorschach.


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