I’ve done a few of these ‘Watching Movies’ posts. Initially I had thought that I might be writing mostly reviews of movies I’d taken myself to, but I seem to have more friends that I have given myself credit for or something and have been to a few lately with people. Anyway, I will still try to see a bunch of movies on my own but there will be others that I’ve seen with people, so, I’ve renamed these posts. You probably could care less but I just thought I’d put up a little disclaimer.
‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’ is the latest film directed by Ben Stiller. It also stars him, and is (although many people may not realise it) a remake of a 1947 film of the same name. The story is about Walter Mitty, a guy who works for ‘Life’ Magazine in New York making sure the photo negatives for the magazine are collected, catalogued and cared for. The magazine is being moved online, people are getting sacked and the negative due to go on the cover of the last ever ‘Life’ magazine goes missing. Since Walter is in charge of negatives it is therefore his responsibility to get it back; to do that he has to track down the adventurous freelance photographer. Cue an epic journey around the globe to find him.
The first thing that struck me about this film is that it is visually pleasing. Triple J’s ‘Movie Guy’ Marc Fennell said that you could take just about any still from the entire film, put it on your wall and call it art, and I have to agree. Each shot appears to have been crafted so as to be both aesthetically pleasing and to add character to the progress of Walter’s journey. In his interview with Margaret and David, Stiller talks about how he and the Director of Photography, Stuart Dryburgh, had the intended to show some of the changes in Walter through the way the film was shot. In the first part of the film, the shots are filled with grey, the long shots are not that long, and the screen seems drab like Walter’s life. From the moment Walter decides to go to Greenland, we see the cinematography change, the screen is now filled with writhing colour, vast landscape shots, long shots where Walter seems small and always in motion, compared to New York he was larger on the screen but very static.
Throughout the film Walter has episodes in which he loses himself inside his own head, his sister calls it ‘zoning out’. In these moments Walter is transformed from the mild mannered Clark Kent photo nerd of his normal life, to a Superman style action hero who sweeps in to save/impress his love interest, Cheryl, played by Kristen Wiig. At the beginning of the film these moments are vital to explaining who Walter is, and they become less frequent as we follow Walter’s development as a character. While it’s true, as Marc Fennell points out, that these sequences are a little bit distracting and you’re not quite sure if you believe that the trip to Greenland is true, I feel like that’s the point. You’re supposed to feel incredulous, you’re supposed to question what happens, and I think that this makes the realisation that Walter did actually do all of that stuff all the more powerful.
In terms of acting, I applaud Ben Stiller for having played this role straight. There is nothing cheap or tacky about Walter, he’s a real guy with real worries and you really hope that he gets what he wants. This isn’t an ensemble film, however, and as a result the other cast members have much smaller parts. Adam Scott’s downsizing General Manager is genuinely one of the biggest dicks in movie history, his beard should also get a mention for being a terrible, terrible accessory adding to the general dickiness. Now this might be unfair, but I can’t take Sean Penn’s Sean O’Connel seriously. There’s something about Sean Penn that pisses me off, and I get annoyed when I see his face in anything. The character seems a bit underdeveloped; he’s this remote wilderness photographer nomad who has a strangely tender relationship with Walter but I never felt like I really understood where that came from. I would have liked there to be more to Sean O’Connel to feel like this relationship was authentic.
This film was well crafted, well shot, well acted and generally well received by the audience. Obviously one has to suspend disbelief sometimes, like when Walter gets a mobile phone call halfway up the Himalayas, but there weren’t any massive glaring plot holes. I also enjoyed that the romance aspect was not overplayed, even at the end it was represented by a slow motion hand holding shot. Overall I give this film 4 out of 5 stars, I was a little bit worried going in that it wouldn’t be any good, but I was certainly very pleasantly proven wrong.