Film Friday: ‘Watchmen’ & ‘One Week’

by W. Andrew Powell


A scene from the Watchmen

Opening this week, Zack Snyder gift wraps the monumental Watchmen graphic novel in celluloid for the legion of fans who having been buzzing about it for the last year. Also opening, Joshua Jackson stars in the Canadian drama One Week.

Despite writer Alan Moore’s objections, the Watchmen movie has finally made it to screens, and the good news is that director Zack Snyder has more than exceeded expectations.

Set in an alternate-reality 1985 when superheroes wait around every corner and America is at the height of cold-war tension with the Soviet Union, Watchmen is a different kind of hero story from the likes of Spider-Man or The Dark Knight. It is far more intellectual, with philosophical concepts that will seem familiar if you watched of Moore’s other adapted stories, maybe most notably, V for Vendetta.

Despite the philosophy, it’s also a great action film, with enough bangs, explosions, and most of all, blood, for any movie junkie.

With one of their own murdered, the vigilante hero Rorschach sets out to discover the roots of a conspiracy to kill the members of the now disbanded group of heroes known as the Watchmen. Going back to the group of heroes he once worked with, Rorschach uncovers a plot that could result in nuclear war, while the question buzzes in the background, is there more going on than meets the eye?

Snyder, who left his mark with the epic 300, makes great use of the source material, and considering the huge expectations of the widespread fan base, the results are more than impressive.

It’s big, moving, and the special effects bring the story to life in every way.

The only major flaw might be that Snyder is too faithful to the original graphic novel, which makes the story feel cluttered with far too many asides. At the same time I can’t imagine cutting anything to make it shorter. At the end of the film, those asides make for a very complete and satisfying picture, showing us the hearts of these troubled heroes, but it does also make for a very long movie.

In terms of the cast, I’m only somewhat familiar with the graphic novel, but the assembled stars are fantastic. My favorites had to be Malin Akerman as Silk Spectre II, who imbues her character with gentle innocence, despite being able to break people’s arms off, and the gruff Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach. Haley has a way of spitting out his lines like syllabic insults, and despite the fact that he has a mask over his face for most of the film, he makes the character’s pain entirely visible.

Otherwise, I enjoyed the performances of Patrick Wilson as Nite Owl II, Billy Crudup as the electric blue Dr. Manhattan, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan as The Comedian, but I’m not sure they left the same impact. Crudup, in particular, has a tough job here since he is a computer generated naked blue man for most of the film, but he does a good job portraying the character’s detachment from humanity all the same.

The special effects for Watchmen are also acceptable, but next to blockbusters from last year, the film does falter a bit. Most of the film looks fantastic, but there are a couple of scenes where the special effects feel a bit ordinary, and a couple more where they fail to even look convincingly realistic.

My last observation, which you might also take as a complaint, is just with the timing of this Watchmen film. We’ve seen the troubled hero on screen for years now, and while these heroes are particularly troubled, or even corrupt, the entire film feels incredibly outdated.

Ten years ago, this would have been a monumental story to tell on screen, it would have been more challenging, and it would have been a risk, but today it feels like a film that arrived late for the superhero party. Next to The Dark Knight, I’m also sorry to say that it feels just a tad silly, which seems like a disservice to Moore’s otherwise striking story.

Also opening in select theatres…

One Week
Joshua Jackson stars as Ben Tyler in this sometimes comic Canadian drama about a young man who goes on a cross-country trip from Ontario to British Columbia after his doctor informs him that he only has a short time to live.

Leaving his fiancée behind, who is played by Liane Balaban, Ben examines his life and the world around him as a steady flow of Canadian pop songs plays in the background.

Debuting at last year’s Toronto Film Festival, One Week is a well-acted but ultimately odd drama that gives a stunning view of our country, but needed to avoid one flaw.

“Unsurprisingly,” Liam Lacey wrote for The Globe and Mail, “terminal illness plus whimsy does not actually add up to insight.”

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