This isn’t a real review, just some bullet-point responses – with some vague spoilers.
— I could not believe how real New York looked in its overgrown falling-apart empty state. Astonishing. Almost none of the shots rang false – they looked completely real – and without the phony gleam of CGI. The shadows were right, the signage, the decay … amazing. And he hangs out in my neck of the woods – Times Square, Washington Square Park – so I know those streets and avenues intimately. It was very very real – I have no idea how they did it, and I don’t want to know.
— I think of all the actors working today Will Smith comes the closest to capturing whatever it was about Cary Grant that made him so special. I’ve thought that for a while. Smith doesn’t quite have the mystery at the heart of Grant – like, even Grant’s wives didn’t know who the guy was … but in terms of star power, a sense of reality in the moment, an ability to do ridiculous comedy, a certain sense of self-deprecation which is completely charming, he’s sexy, he’s masculine, and when you look at him – you believe him. Also he looks smashing in a tux. And women and men respond to him EQUALLY. That’s totally rare. Clooney has a bit of this, too – but I think Smith does, even more so. I could totally see him kicking some serious ass in a 1930s screwball comedy, playing the “Cary Grant role”. Isn’t a stretch to imagine that at all. And I think, instead of making goofiness and nerdiness like that into an actory exercise, all tics and behavior – he would be totally believable. On some deep deep level, Will Smith is a gigantic NERD. I mean, the guy is obsessed with correct grammar to an almost OCD level. He brings it up in nearly every interview he does. “Why cannot people speak correctly??” he agonizes to some bimbo from Access Hollywood interviewing him on the red carpet. To combine that nerdiness with macho sex appeal is a rare rare thing indeed, and almost no actors have it. He does. The role he plays in I Am Legend takes both those innate qualities of Smith: macho loner-dude, and nerd (he’s a scientist) – and uses both of them quite well.
— Okay. Onward.
— In the flashbacks, when we see the crazed evacuation of New York City (oh, and I could see the end of my street in NUMEROUS shots. Not to give away where I live, but whateveer – in those shots, I was picturing myself at the end of my drive watching the mayhem just across the river, and wondering what I should do. Cause yeah, it’s all about me.) Anyway, when we see Smith’s character in his role as military man, father, husband … he just NAILS it … and it is such a huge contrast to the solitary roaming creature he has become in the present-day. Let me just mention one moment that I thought was superb (and I think the director must have thought so too because he included the shot twice. Like: bro. Don’t ruin a good thing. We saw it once. Let it go. Including it twice is like re-playing the last shot of Queen Christina as the credits roll. Just to make sure we get how awesome Garbo was. No. Once is enough.) But back to the moment. His wife and daughter are being hustled onto a helicopter. He is staying behind, to try to fight the virus. HE IS THE ONLY MAN WHO CAN SAVE THE WORLD, etc. The dog stays with him. The family has said a hasty prayer together, holding hands, before being separated (I have to admit, that part got me) … and then Smith stands back to let the helicopter leave, watching. He is holding the dog in his arms. His daughter and wife are both crying, but they are waving at him. Smith stands there, with tears streaming down his face – but a huge smile on – and the dog reaches up and quick-quick licks the tears off – and Smith kind of grins at his family, a moment of embarrassment at his tears, and also humor at the dog … 5,000 things are going on at once in Will Smith at that moment, but he plays it all with ease and grace. It feels HUMAN, not like a big actor moment, where he gets to show off his tears. There is no swelling music (not that I remember anyway) – just the sound of pandemonium around. And Smith is crying like a real man would cry … I mean that he seems human and like a real guy – not an actor. Actors tears can be cheap. Normal human beings who are not actors often have conflicting feelings about shedding tears, they get embarrassed, or angry – they try to hold it back … etc. They don’t REVEL in the fact that there are TEARS on their faces. And so Smith isn’t crying like an actor cries in that moment. He is crying like a real guy – who might be a bit embarrassed by the tears, and also is still trying to telegraph to his family that everything is going to be okay – which is why he’s smiling … and then he just has to laugh at the dog licking him … Okay, so now I just realized that I described the moment fully TWICE … just like the director used it twice in the film! hahahaha Anyway, it’s only 2 seconds long … but it’s my favorite bit of acting in the film. Such real moments GROUND the thing – because a lot of it is quite quite silly. But what he does in that moment affects how we feel about him for the rest of the film. We love him.
— Wasn’t wacky about the zombies. I just didn’t find them all that scary. New York all empty and overgrown was terrifying. The zombie living dead death-eater darkness-lovers seemed like small potatoes after having to deal with THAT. And the last standoff with the zombies was ridiculous and disappointing. It was suddenly like any other movie – and it had felt like it might be going in another direction. Like: “they followed us home …” I don’t know. Didn’t make sense. Aren’t they always out there at night? Isn’t that why you barricade yourself in? And I just didn’t believe that those shrieking writhing rabies-people were sentient enough to be like: “Hey, guys, I have an idea … let’s follow those guys home!” It just seemed too … typical. At least that was my response to it. I also just wasn’t afraid of them, even though I know I should have been. Like I said before, when the huge lion with the mane strolled out onto 45th and Broadway, under the raggedy TKTS sign and stared at Will Smith … THAT was scary. Because I identified. I couldn’t help but put myself in Smith’s shoes, and problem-solve in those moments. What would I do? How would I fare? Disaster movies are great for bringing up such questions. But zombies “following us home” just didn’t do it for me.
— I loved the dog. One of the best movie dogs I have ever seen. The dog kept checking in with Will Smith, throughout – looking up – searching his face for clues, information … “how do we feel about this???” the dog asks with its eyes. Great dog. Great relationship formed. The film flat out would not have worked if that relationship had been of the cheeseball variety. And it didn’t feel like a “device” like the god-awful Wilson volleyball malarkey, which had device (not to mention “product placement”) written all over it (as Emily and I discussed here). The dog was not only a companion – but a necessary partner in what Smith was trying to do. They were not only buds, but they helped each other – stay strong, stay in the game, try to stay alive. Two is always better than one in some apocalyptic situation!!
— Will Smith has a monologue where he talks to a mannequin in a video store. A female mannequin. The running gag (between him and the dog) is that one day he will get up the guts to “say hi” to her. (Oh, and I love how Smith goes to the video store to take out movies – but he also returns the ones he “rented” the last week. Now that’s integrity! Everyone’s dead – you could take home the whole damn store. But nope. Smith likes the ritual of renting a movie … chatting with the clerk, browsing, etc. Nice detail). Anyway, there’s a sexy female mannequin … and at one particularly low low moment, Smith finally walks up to her and talks to her. As he speaks, I can’t even do justice to the transformation that takes place on his face. It is like a wellspring of grief and loss just gushes up – and his eyes fill up with tears – but more than that – you can see the whites go bloodshot. You know how when you have a certain KIND of cry – your eyes get all red? We watch that happen before our eyes, as Smith tries to talk to the mannequin. Well played, bro.
— He has an incredibly cornball monologue about Bob Marley – but again, he underplays … totally underplays it … his talent is such that it leads him away from the big cheesy gestures … and it actually really works (the monologue). I, the cynic in the audience, was quite moved. Not because I love Marley (I don’t) … but because I totally got what Marley meant to Will Smth’s character. Another very well-played moment.
— The scenes of him screaming up and down the empty grassy avenues of New York in his car (loved the detail about gas being almost 7 bucks a gallon) … chasing down rampaging antelope and gazelle – were positively fantastic. I have no idea how they did it. And like I said, don’t really want to know. It felt completely real.
— Smith has a moment of confrontation with a group of rabies-ridden people. He comes back to his fortress in Washington Square Park – and makes a video on his laptop about what he saw. He’s a scientist – he keeps having to report on all of this. He is disheartened, but he does not let his emotions get the better of him. He is analytical. A scientist. Yet his face tells a deeper story. He is reporting on their “symptoms” – because, after all, these people were once human beings. But he keeps his tone dry, distant … until he says the line, “Recognizable human behavior is now …. totally absent.” Just watch how he says that line. How he underplays it, but how he manages to convey the deep deep sadness he feels. That’s a movie star.