I have a mild affection for Paul W.S. Anderson–or, at least, I think he gets a bad rap. I’ve never been able to easy prove it before, but Resident Evil certainly helps my argument for Anderson’s effectiveness as a director. The film opens with a nine or so minute tease, establishing the situation, then goes into a disoriented and, we soon learn, amnesiac Milla Jovovich waking up in a big empty house and walking about in various states of half-dress. In these scenes–which are spooky–Anderson does a fantastic job; his composition is a nice (really, nice, nice is the word I’m using) mix of Carpenter and Kubrick. Just before the sequence ends (or, more accurately, further develops), he’s got this spooky shot of leaves twirling around. It’s beautifully done and when it turns out to be a helicopter landing, well, something about that ruse is quite good.
Unfortunately, Anderson made some bad decisions with actors. Not casting in all circumstances (all but one, really), but in forcing his mostly English cast to adopt “American” accents. Nothing really happens for the first half hour of Resident Evil, some teases at scariness and a little expository dialogue; even the first big action scene is lackluster, because it’s just churning. You can practically hear the movie spinning up… zombie movies do not have big casts and until Resident Evil gets itself manageable, it doesn’t really get going. During the twenty or so minutes, after the opening tease and before the ignition’s started, Michelle Rodriguez really manages to annoy beyond any reasonable conception of the term. She’s terrible. Awful. When, at the end of the film, her character is sympathetic, there’s the proof for Anderson as an effective action film director. I didn’t know if I could get through her “acting.” The scenes with her and Pasquale Aleardi, who has the excuse of not being a native English speaker for his terrible line-delivery, are among the more painful moments ever filmed. Also unfortunate is Colin Salmon, who fails when it comes to his American accent–fails terribly. Salmon’s usually good too and he’s an Anderson regular, so the misuse is surprising. James Purefoy is okay for most of the film, only losing the accent at the end, but I think he’s quiet for a lot of his scenes. Martin Crewes is another accent faker, but he’s good. Eric Mabius is fine, maybe even good in most of his scenes, but he’s got a silly haircut. The shock of Resident Evil is Milla Jovovich. At first, I thought her good performance was due to the amnesia… but then she kept going and being good, which was unbelievable.
Anderson’s template for Resident Evil isn’t so much any zombie movie, but instead Aliens; just imagine it towards the end when most of the cast are gone and the aliens are everywhere. There’s some really stupid stuff–it is a Paul W.S. Anderson movie after all–like the soldiers not going for head shots off the bat, none of the characters being introduced, so their names always come as a surprise–I don’t think Jovovich is ever clearly named in the film, which is kind of silly, since there’s some sort of Alice in Wonderland reference going on. The music’s annoying, but occasionally it works rather well.
When, towards the end, Anderson actually manages to wrap up his amnesia thing, his monster on the loose thing, two revelations and some other stuff–all while actually making the characters’ plight vibrate–it’s when Resident Evil works the best. Oddly, the predictable ending isn’t even annoying, instead it’s gratifying, because of the film’s self-confidence.
I’m actually not completely surprised by Resident Evil, as I figured it’d be watchable (as Anderson tends to be), but I’m at least seventy-percent surprised, since the whole thing hinges on Jovovich and she pulled it off.