Sarah Paulson and Gabriel Macht star in THE SPIRIT, directed by Frank Miller for Lions Gate Films.

The Spirit (2008, Frank Miller)

The Spirit is a disaster. It’s a complete disaster. But sometimes, it’s a wonderful one.

Frank Miller can’t write a movie, he can’t plot a movie–arguably, with the exception of his straight-on shots, he can sort of direct one–but it doesn’t matter. There’s no good reason anyone should have given Miller any kind of budget or creative control over a movie and Lionsgate, being Lionsgate, did and he created this mess.

There are good things about The Spirit. Actors. Two of them. Gabriel Macht and Sarah Paulson. Some of the very supporting supporting cast is all right. The majority of the performances are awful. They’re incompetent, but Miller can’t direct actors and he can’t cast them. He found two of the worst female actors he could and cast them in a movie together–who’s worse, Eva Mendes or Scarlett Johansson. I actually think it has to be Johansson, just because her scenes with Samuel L. Jackson make it look like he’s giving a decent performance (by comparison).

Miller apparently thought Jackson was a good choice for the outlandish villain, but Jackson gives the same performance–big shock–he’s been giving since Pulp Fiction. He does not, however, mention being black, which might be the reason he’s a little bit better than usual. With Johansson around–or Paz Vega or Stana Kelic–it’s impossible for Jackson to really seem all too terrible. There’s so much garbage acting, just the basic ability to deliver ones lines puts Jackson leagues ahead.

Dan Lauria is also terrible. Miller’s choices, however stupid, all make sense except Lauria. He should have chemistry with Paulson. He doesn’t. He should have chemistry with Macht. He doesn’t. Instead, he goes around being awful.

Miller’s style for the film occasionally betrays real storytelling sensibility. Not often, but occasionally; enough to keep the interest level up. But the thrill of The Saint is feeling Miller’s vibe–his idiotic vibe. I think he thinks he did a good job presenting Will Eisner’s character to modern audiences, but what he’s created is this amalgam fans won’t like and new audiences can’t connect with. By updating the original, he’s somehow dated it.

He did the whole green screen thing (like Sin City) and it frequently works. Letting Miller be stupid is at least interesting, whether it’s his composition or the way he utilizes color.

It’s too bad it’s not a particularly original film. It seems like a retread of Batman Forever, but with the Danny Elfman Batman music blaring. There are Pulp Fiction references, Superman references… all sorts of references. And they don’t work because Miller doesn’t understand he isn’t connecting with the audience. He probably even thought the audience was going to care about the characters.

Only Macht and Paulson make real people. Paulson because she can’t help acting well and Macht by accident (his frequent voice overs do him no favors). But their scenes together are fantastic, right from the start.

I suppose the movie moves pretty well too. It’s going to be one of the last vanity projects unproven filmmakers get, so it’s definitely worth looking at just from the historical perspective. Plus, it’s nowhere near as bad as I expected.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Frank Miller; screenplay by Miller, based on the comic book series by Will Eisner; director of photography, Bill Pope; edited by Gregory Nussbaum; music by David Newman; produced by Deborah Del Prete, Gigi Pritzker and Michael E. Uslan; released by Lionsgate.

Starring Gabriel Macht (The Spirit), Eva Mendes (Sand Saref), Sarah Paulson (Ellen), Dan Lauria (Dolan), Paz Vega (Plaster of Paris), Eric Balfour (Mahmoud), Jaime King (Lorelei), Scarlett Johansson (Silken Floss), Samuel L. Jackson (The Octopus) and Louis Lombardi (Phobos).

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