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Dustin Putman

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Wanted  (2008)
3 Stars
Directed by Timur Bekmambetov.
Cast: James McAvoy, Angelina Jolie, Morgan Freeman, Terence Stamp, Thomas Kretschmann, Common, Kristen Hager, Chris Pratt, Lorna Scott, Marc Warren, David O'Hara, Konstantin Khabensky, Dato Bakhtadze.
2008 – 110 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for strong bloody violence throughout, pervasive language and some sexuality).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, June 19, 2008.
"Wanted" is based upon a lesser-known comic book series (by Mark Millar and J.G. Jones) than this summer's previous releases, "Iron Man" and "The Incredible Hulk," but it creatively and visually blows both of them out of the water. While shades of "The Matrix" and "Fight Club" are natural inspirations—the former for its effects, gun-toting images and bullet-time photography, the latter for its self-deprecating voiceover and pungent commentary on the disaffection of nine-to-five jobs—the film is alive with stylistic innovation and impressively clean storytelling. And, just when things have slowed down and the pacing has lost some of its luster, director Timur Bekmambetov (2006's "Night Watch") pulls multiple tricks out of his hat that not only raise the picture to a higher level, but will blindside viewers. For once, the theatrical trailers do not give the whole plot and all the money shots away.

Wesley Gibson (James McAvoy) is a young twentysomething accountant whose life is in the pisser. His bitchy girlfriend (Kristen Hager) is sleeping with his best friend (Chris Pratt), and he knows it. His high-stress job has left him struggling with severe panic attacks. His boss (Lorna Scott) is a bullying tyrant. His bank account leaves something to be desired. And, scariest of all, a Google search of his name returns no matches. Wesley is in dire need of a change (even if he doesn't yet realize it), and the chance to do something about it finally arrives in the form of Fox (Angelina Jolie), a heat-packing vixen who saves his life from the in-pursuit Cross (Thomas Kretschmann). Fox and in-command Sloan (Morgan Freeman) are just two of the members of The Fraternity, a centuries-old group of weavers-turned-assassins whose targets are revealed in a code language hidden within the threads of a loom. It turns out Wesley's estranged father, Mr. X (David O'Hara), was also in the society, and he has just been murdered by Cross. Gifted with the same abilities as his dad, Wesley enters into an arduous training program that will prep him to not only be an assassin (The Fraternity's motto: "Kill one, save a thousand"), but ready him for his own personal act of vengeance.

Boasting eye-popping, intricately designed action set-pieces and a sharply written screenplay by Chris Morgan (2006's "The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift") and Michael Brandt & Derek Haas (2007's "3:10 to Yuma"), "Wanted" so far ties with the grossly overlooked "Speed Racer" as this summer's thrill ride to beat. The difference between the two? "Speed Racer" was targeted toward family audiences, while the R-rated "Wanted" is a dazzling and bloodily violent romp that doesn't skimp on skin-piercing bullet wounds and innumerable acts of brutality.

The viewer's tour guide is protagonist Wesley Gibson, an aimless, apathetic chap whose mind we instantly enter into through spot-on satirical narration. Perfectly encapsulating his feelings on a routine lifestyle that has left him a nobody going nowhere, Wesley's internal honesty is refreshing in its frankness. Indeed, it is because of the character's personified mind-frame and the ceaseless rhythm of the opening half-hour's editing that engulfs the audience's attention. James McAvoy (2007's "Atonement") is well cast as Wesley, his unimposingly handsome everyman quality and gradual, cool coming-into-his-own making for nice gateways to connecting with him. Wesley may be drawn into a dark profession, but he accepts it under the belief that the people he is sent to kill is for the betterment of the world at large.

Following a high-throttle car chase through the city streets of Chicago that goes for broke, the picture does hit a lull for a spell as Wesley learns about The Fraternity and is bombarded with training. When the details on how the assassin's marks are revealed—through the aforementioned threading on the "Loom of Fate"—it is so ridiculously silly that one either throws their hands up in defeat, or laughs and goes with the flow. Taking this plot point in stride turns out to be the way to go, because what follows is beyond crowd-pleasing. It is safe to say that an extended chase and battle on a train that derails over a bridge is one of the more purely amazing and grandly scaled action sequences in memory. The CGI incorporated into this part, and many others, is seamless. In any normal movie, this scene would make for a satisfying climax, but director Timur Bekmambetov presses forward with a third act that is as provocative as it is unpredictable.

If "Wanted" wholeheartedly belongs, actor-wise, to James McAvoy's Wesley, Angelina Jolie (2007's "A Mighty Heart") nonetheless commands the screen as Fox, a sexy, decidedly limber assassin whose complicated, unsettling history has paved the way for the person she has become. As Sloan, Morgan Freeman (2007's "The Bucket List") essays the familiar role of a soft-spoken and calm authoritative figure. Freeman's part demands little of him until some story developments near the end allow him to have a bit of fun. In a small but not easily forgotten turn, Lorna Scott (2007's "The Heartbreak Kid") is an equally scary and humorous force of nature as Janice, Wesley's boss from hell.

A tale of a man who learns to embrace life instead of letting it pass him by, "Wanted" is unorthodox rather than formulaic in its treatment. Comparing it to 2007's similarly but less coherently plotted "Hitman" exposes the sheer talent and ambition of this film, and the complete lack of these things in the earlier miserable release. With yet another invaluable music score from Danny Elfman (2006's "Charlotte's Web") and accompanying song tracks that work wonders, the picture additionally augments a moody atmosphere that compliment's Wesley's journey. "Wanted" won't be winning Best Picture at next year's Oscars, but as a bold new action movie that could well become either a ginormous hit or a fervent cult classic, the experience is close to exhilarating.
© 2008 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman