Updated: Friday, February 17, 2017 – 3:32 PM
By Adam Sherman
The 2010s haven’t been the kindest to Gore Verbinski — most famous for the 2002 remake of The Ring, and the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy. He started off the decade strong, with 2011’s acclaimed, animated adventure, Rango (which reunited him with his Pirates star, Johnny Depp). Unfortunately, his next live-action feature – and what Disney was hoping to make into a new Pirates-esque franchise set in the Old West – would be 2013’s The Lone Ranger. Combine this with Johnny Depp’s decreasing box office draw, and perhaps it was time for Verbinski to leave the more bombastic and return to something more relatively grounded. Could this return to horror serve as the cure for Verbinski’s filmmaking woes?
The answer? Potentially, but he’s still got some work to do.
A Cure for Wellness focuses on a young executive named Lockhart (Dane DeHaan), who has been sent to bring his company’s CEO back from a “wellness center” in the Swiss Alps to complete a merger. But when a car crash lengthens his stay, Lockhart begins to investigate the center’s so-called “cure.” Spurred on by communications with a mysterious patient named Hannah (Mia Goth), and unnerved by the facility’s director, Dr. Heinreich Volmer (Jason Issacs), Lockhart finds his sanity tested as he begins to uncover the truth behind the center and it’s “cure.”
The first hour of A Cure for Wellness promises quite a bit of character exploration and may call Shutter Island to mind. And indeed, there are moments in the film when you may question whether what Lockhart experienced was real or not. DeHaan does an excellent job of building up Lockhart as an unlikeable corporate jerk who you may just want to punch in the face. And yet as the film goes on, and his own sanity comes into question, he manages to make the character vulnerable, pitiable, and someone to root for. This certainly isn’t hurt by Jason Issacs’ Dr. Volmer, who comes off as worth confiding in, and yet also someone to fear. His performance further helps sell the idea that Lockhart’s sanity may be what the audience should be wary of trusting. The film itself is at its strongest when it’s embracing its horror elements, creating such an effective sense of dread that, even when you know something is coming, the anticipation makes it terrifying, rather than eyeroll-worthy.
However, the film’s flaws become more blatant as it reaches the last 45 minutes. While Goth does a great job with the material she is given, Hannah doesn’t have much of a character arc and winds up on the receiving end of problematic elements not unlike those of Split. Most of the supporting cast is given little to do and seems to serve only as window-dressing. Even the CEO who Lockhart was sent to retrieve is only given one major scene, which initially promises a greater exploration of Lockhart’s past and a possible B-story. The other major issue with the film is that it eventually bites off a bit more than it can chew, and switches from scary to somewhat ridiculous. No spoilers, but the ending only comes off as slightly satisfying, but somewhat empty.
In spite of the flaws, A Cure for Wellness is a legitimately good film, and there are worse ways to spend 2 ½ hours. Verbinski’s gotten back on the horse, now let’s see if he can ride it into the sunset.
A Cure for Wellness is distributed by 20th Century Fox, and is due for release on Feb. 17.
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A Great (Wall of An) Adventure
As China continues to grow into one of the biggest economic superpowers on the planet, it was inevitable that the People’s Republic would attempt to get its foot in the door of the international film market. And thus, The Great Wall. With a budget of $135 million (making it the most expensive film to ever be shot solely in China), a story from World War Z author Max Brooks, a script from the creators of Narcos and the co-writer of Rogue One, and the director of House of Flying Daggers behind the camera, there is obviously a lot of pressure to make sure this movie succeeds as China’s first international blockbuster tentpole. The question becomes, is this movie worth seeing?
Yes. Yes it is.
William Garin (Matt Damon) and Pero Tovar (Pedro Pascal) are mercenaries seeking a substance known as “black powder” when they come across the Great Wall of China, and are taken prisoner by the Nameless Order. But upon witnessing the magnitude of the enemy the wall’s defenders face, the mercenaries and the order must unite – and in the process, William may find a cause to fight for.
The Great Wall never aspires to be more than an engaging action fantasy film with themes of “cooperation leads to victory,” and it succeeds at doing just that. The action sequences are usually easy to follow and nearly every character featured gets a moment to shine.
The acting ranges from okay to decent. In spite of William’s character arc, Matt Damon seems to be phoning it in; and as a result, his character comes off as bland. Ironically, Pedro Pascal’s Tovar comes off as far more interesting, being openly honest about just wanting to get the “black powder” and leave; one wonders how interesting it would’ve been had he served as the film’s protagonist. However, it is Jing Tian’s Commander Lin Mae who comes off as the best character in the film. She comes off as a genuine badass who gets to show her capabilities against the Tao Tei (the monsters), and could be seen as the real protagonist.
The film has two themes overall: willingness to fight for a cause greater than oneself—as demonstrated through William’s arc—and how triumph comes through cooperation and trust – as seen through the Chinese Army’s battle strategies in the film. Both manage to shine through with flying colors, and are themes that could definitely resonate with the modern world. Further examples go into spoiler territory, but nonetheless, the message comes through loud and clear.
If this is what China’s future output looks like, then The Great Wall is good sign of things to come.
The Great Wall is distributed by Universal Pictures and is due for release on Feb. 17.