Chaos Walking

Review by Rich Cline | 2.5/5

Chaos Walking
dir Doug Liman
scr Patrick Ness, Christopher Ford
prd Doug Davison, Allison Shearmur, Erwin Stoff, Alison Winter
with Daisy Ridley, Tom Holland, Mads Mikkelsen, David Oyelowo, Cynthia Erivo, Demian Bichir, Nick Jonas, Ray McKinnon, Kurt Sutter, Vincent Leclerc, Bethany Anne Lind, Francois Gauthier
release US 5.Mar.21,
UK 2.Apr.21
21/US 1h49

mikkelsen oyelowo erivo

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ridley and holland
There's a Wild West sensibility to this conceptual sci-fi thriller, which uses toxic masculinity as its central plot point. Director Doug Liman tells the story energetically, but neglects to engage us with developed characters or themes. It's visually inventive and thematically suggestive, but the film stubbornly remains a rather cartoonish battle between people who have no textures. At least the superb cast makes us wish it was better than this.
On a new Earth in 2257, there are no women and everyone can see and hear each others' thoughts, leading to constant manly clashes. The nervous young Todd (Holland) is brutally bullied by local preacher Aaron (Oyelowo). And charismatic Mayor Prentiss (Mikkelsen) and his son (Jonas) aren't much friendlier. Then Todd finds a crashed shuttle from the delayed second wave of colonists. The only survivor is Viola (Ridley), and Todd has never seen a girl, or anyone whose thoughts he can't hear. To protect her, they flee to another settlement, pursued by Aaron and Prentiss.
Liman depicts thoughts as swirly clouds, which is over-egged but looks cool. The men call this "noise" and struggle to control it. And they're terrified that they can't hear Viola's thoughts. With Prentiss' tyrannical rule, plus occasional mentions of how the women were killed by natives, it's clear that further details will expand the mythology and correct what's obviously a false history. All of this makes us want to know more, but the filmmakers remain fixated with more superficial thrills.

The whizzy noise imagery overwhelms the actors' performances, allowing only basic emotions to emerge. But Holland nicely plays Todd's naivete and determination, as well as the literal storm in his head. He and Ridley build a strong camaraderie as they head out on this perilous, revelatory adventure. Mikkelsen and especially Oyelowo bring a fearsome, ruthless misogyny to their roles as they pursue Viola and Todd across the landscape. But virtually every other actor is badly underused.

There's a fascinating tension between Todd and Viola, simply because they can or can't hear each other's thoughts. So it's frustrating that they remain so sketchy, and that their foes are such blindly thuggish men, plus one ugly digital native. There are intriguing ideas peppered throughout the premise, such as the two men (Bichir and Sutter) raising Todd or the female leader (Erivo) of a farming community, but none of these things are explored. Liman's empty-headed approach just about holds the attention, but it wastes the potential.

cert 12 themes, language, violence 10.Mar.21

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© 2021 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall