dir Timur Bekmambetov
scr Michael Brandt, Derek Haas, Chris Morgan
with James McAvoy, Angelina Jolie, Morgan Freeman, Terence Stamp, Thomas Kretschmann, Common, Marc Warren, Dato Bakhtadze, Kristen Hager, Chris Pratt, Lorna Scott, David Patrick O'Hara
release US/UK 27.Jun.08
08/US Universal 1h51
Look into my eyes: Jolie and McAvoy

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Wanted With a raucous sense of style, this adventure thriller is a treat for grown-up moviegoers, stirring strong characters and intense action into a thoroughly entertaining romp.

Wesley (McAvoy) is a geeky Chicago accountant who's unhappy with his decent life. When a sudden gunfight erupts around him, he's rescued by a woman named Fox (Jolie) and he's introduced to Sloan (Freeman), head of the Fraternity, a thousand-year-old secret society of assassins who cleanse the world of undesirables. It turns out that Wesley's recently deceased father was a member, and that he has inherited his special skills. So after some gruelling training, his first job is to find his father's killer.

Russian filmmaker Bekmambetov's trademark style (see Night Watch) is a blast of fresh air in an American blockbuster. Sure, he overdoes everything, with whizzing camera work and editing, a crashingly dense sound mix and constant stunts and effects work. But it's done with a lightness of touch that Hollywood hacks can't dream of. And it's also made for an adult audience, never pandering to pre-teens, which allows for much more intrigue and subtext.

Not to say that the film feels even vaguely realistic. It doesn't, especially as these killers have super-human abilities to control their pulses, bend bullets and defy gravity with their cars. That said, they're also recognisable, and McAvoy's casting is a stroke of genius: he begins in the kind of role we expect, as an underachieving everyman. And he perfectly plays Wesley's transformation into a mega-assassin as much more than mere wish-fulfilment.

Meanwhile everyone around him is impossibly cool, from Jolie's omnipresent vixen to Freeman's silky-sinister boss. Stamp is terrific in a smaller role, as are Common, Warren and Bakhtadze as Wesley's three teachers. This sequence is far more than the usual training montage; not only do their personalities emerge, but we feel every brutal ordeal they submit him to.

And by grounding it in real characters, Bekmambetov frees himself to indulge in seriously gonzo car chases, hilariously convoluted mythology (the Loom of Fate!), cod philosophy ("Kill one, maybe save a thousand"), exploding rats and a spectacular train derailment. Like The Matrix, it's not nearly as complex as it pretends to be, but it's visually stunning and relentlessly entertaining from start to finish.

cert 18 themes, strong violence, language, sexuality 12.Jun.08

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send your review to Shadows... Wanted Hone, Berlin: 2/5 "While the action scenes and Bekmambetov's eye-boggling effects (loved Night Watch) are astonishing, I don't think McAvoy's casting is appropriate. Sure, he's adequate as the under-achieving office drone, but once he encounters Fox he becomes an obnoxious fool, acting and wise-acreing just like the uncouth teenaged boys this film seems to be aimed at The near-instantaneous transformation from brow-beaten doormat to insolent smart-arse just isn't credible - I could scarcely tolerate his character. Don't get me wrong, I rate McAvoy highly as an actor (principally in period dramas or light comedy), but this role called for an Ed Norton, and he's no Ed Norton. And book-ending the film with narration was just aggravating - could it have been more derivative of Fight Club?" (2.Jul.08)
© 2008 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall