Directed by: Shawn Levy
Produced by: Shawn Levy
Screenplay by: John Gatins
Story by: Dan Gilroy
Based on: Steel by Richard Matheson
Starring: Hugh Jackman
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cinematography by: Mauro Fiore
Editing by: Dean Zimmerman
Studio(s): DreamWorks Pictures
21 Laps Entertainment
Distributed by: Touchstone Pictures
Release date(s): October 6, 2011 (Australia)
October 7, 2011 (United States & Canada)
October 14, 2011 (United Kingdom)
Running time: 127 minutes
Country: United States
Budget: $110 million
Box office revenue (as of publication): $182, 322, 602
Another month is finished! We are now on to November, but my reviews for this film and Never Let Me Go will be included as reviews for October and will be followed by my review of the month. Hope you all enjoyed your Halloween, I know I certainly did, at least, that's what my heart tells me when my poor swollen brain cries "Was it worth it? How could you do this to me?" Also, with my room trashed, it brought with it one of those little hangover mysteries that are actually quite fun, trying to find my watch, phone, dentures etc. On the movie front, next week is my reading week at university, so not only will I be doing a good bit of work, I'll be getting at least three movies in at the cinema. Concluding the preamble, I can guarantee reviews for We Need To Talk About Kevin, I Saw The Devil and The Adjustment Bureau in the coming month.
The film for review today is Real Steel. Now, I saw the trailer for this attached to another film, and I couldn't help but thinking "this is going to be shit." I love Hugh Jackman, but considering my relationship with movies about robots hitting each other, I was getting wholeheartedly negative vibes about this film. Set in 2020, robots have replaced humans in the boxing world, and Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman) is an ex-boxer who owns one that helps pay his wages. On the run from a promoter due to money issues, he finds out from social services that his ex-girlfriend and mother to his eleven-year-old son Max (Dakota Goyo) has died. Charlie ends up having to take care of Max for three months, but not without brokering a deal with Max's uncle and future guardian for $100,000. With this money, Charlie intends to buy and revamp a robot to fight, with the help of friend Bailey Tallet (Evangeline Lilly). Every bit of detail in that plot had me thinking that the screenwriters are just trying to write a 'story' around the movie adaptation of the Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots board game, so I wasn't exactly looking forward to the film. Speaking of board games, what the fuck are all these filmmakers doing trying to turn board games into movies? Is the food they're eating too stale, because the shit coming out of their mouths at these production meetings is so unoriginal and fruitless you'd think they'd been eating cardboard! (Look at the Battleship trailer: it's terrifying!)
Surprisingly, despite the film's trailer, there was a lot that I liked about Real Steel. There is some terrific onscreen chemistry between Hugh Jackman and Dakota Goyo. The two nail the estranged father-son relationship, which makes their bonding sessions and squabbles all the more touching and humorous. Importantly, they avoid the potential pitfalls of their respective characters, as they are both written in a cliched, stereotypical manner, one being a sleazy jackass and the other wise-cracking cute kid. Jackman and Goyo manage to act above the material they are given and deliver some strong performances. Also, there is some good-looking cinematography by Mauro Fiore. A man who knows how to shoot action scenes, his talent contributes a lot to this film. Speaking of the fight scenes, although the human side of the story is a lot more engaging than expected, it is all about the robots. For a change, I had no problem with robots hitting each other. The animatronics and motion-capture technology, alongside some great CGI give the film a unique artistic direction. Each of the robots looks distinct and unique, and the fights between them do feel real and hard-hitting, as though they aren't just blobs of effects falling around. Those working on the film have given the robots true weight, and the way in which the fight scenes are constructed make the film have a real 'big fight' feel that should be present in all boxing movies. Also, the film's overall mise-en-scene is well-established, and makes you believe in this rather ludicrous idea of a film as something legitimate. Finally, Shawn Levy has done a very admirable job in taking control of this film. Out of his comedic comfort zone, he does a good job of increasing Real Steel's credibility, and handles this movie with efficiency and with a great degree of restraint: I've seen all too many times a certain director's indulgences in explosions and robots hitting each other, so Levy's approach is refreshing and gives life to what could have been a vacuous and lifeless film.
Despite being a very good film, there are problems with Real Steel. For starters, Danny Elfman, a composer I like very much, delivers a really murder-by-numbers score. It contains a lot of his trademarks, though the score sounds like someone trying to do a poor imitation of Danny Elfman. It's like those who hired him for the film just said to him "Go and do a Danny Elfman score." Unlike Hans Zimmer, who did not go and do a 'Hans Zimmer score' for Rango, Elfman just goes and does a flat and dull score. It is a shame considering his talents as a film composer. The film is also hampered by John Gatins' script, written with the same approach Elfman took to composition. In fairness to him, there is probably only so far one can stretch the film's central concept, but it doesn't change the fact that this script is not up to scratch. All of the characters are written in a stereotypically cliche manner, and as such, while Jackman and Goyo manage to act above the roles they have been assigned, the same cannot be said of Evangeline Lilly, Hope Davis, Karl Yune and Olga Fonda. Each of these actors seem dumbfounded by the shoddy material they have been given, and it is a particular shame with Lilly and Davis, as they are both very good actresses. Also, there are instances of really terrible dialogue that take away from the believability of the film, making it feel like something more hyperreal than it already is. (Sorry if I sound like I'm rambling, I'm listening to The Lion King soundtrack's ...To Die For, the scene of Mufasa's death) Finally, someone (or a few people) needed a rap on the knuckles, as Real Steel is at least twenty minutes too long, and required some vigilance from the editor Dean Zimmerman, Shawn Levy and the film's producers.
Despite the murder-by-numbers score by Danny Elfman and a script by John Gatins that seriously affects some of the film's acting performances, Real Steel is a surprising pleasure of a film. Jackman and Goyo act above and beyond the characters written for them, Mauro Fiore shoots a good-looking film, which helps to no end in the wonderful fight scenes. The animatronics, motion-capture and CGI departments should take great pride in their work here. Also, the strong mise-en-scene ensures that you buy this otherwise ludicrous concept as a legitimate future-sport. Finally, Shawn Levy shows the control that a certain somebody (cough... Michael... cough cough.... Bay) is seriously lacking, and ensures a good degree of audience enjoyment in this picture about robots hitting one another.
The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 7.0/10
The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Mellow (chilling to Hans Zimmer, about to walk dog)