In this weekend’s movies we get to see what once were flourishing worlds, turned into decayed versions of their former selves.
The Dark Tower
Let’s talk about world-building for a second. Novels have the amazing benefit of having a singular vision and spending hundreds of pages describing the intricacies of mythologies, character backgrounds and environments. Only the most masterful screenwriters, editors and directors have the ability to translate what is written on the page and display it in a relatively short time to movie-going audiences.
Now, when I heard that The Dark Tower would only be 95 minutes total, I was disappointed and worried about it ever being able to set up the world that Stephen King had created over seven (give or take) novels. The Dark Tower is King’s fantasy epic. He views it as his Lord of the Rings. Throughout these very bulky novels, we see Roland the Gunslinger chase the Man in Black across the desert. Along the way he is joined by unlikely companions from another world. In the middle of this world is the Dark Tower, which binds the multiple universes together.
There’s so much history and character motivation in these books that no single movie can tell Mid-World’s story. Based on the current reception, there may not be a chance to continue this story.
The movie centers around Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor), a boy who dreams of darkness from another world. As his dreams build up, he finds himself a target of The Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey) and his minions. In time, Jake is able to travel to the world he dreams about and stumbles upon The Gunslinger Roland (Idris Elba), who has a score to settle with The Man in Black.
The Dark Tower can only be seen as Roland’s next journey to reach the tower itself. This is clearly not meant to be an adaptation of the first book, The Gunslinger. Hardcore fans of the novels should understand this fact and not take too much grievance about the new elements introduced. However, there’s so much that fans should be upset about. This is meant to be the Gunslinger’s story. Instead, he is relegated to a one-dimensional side character. The enmity between he and the Man in Black is never quite explained. These two characters speak to each other and reference their long past, but the draw and motives are lost because the characters are clearly just there to refresh the book fan’s memories of the story.
Newcomers to this story will not feel any sort of attachment between Roland and MiB (Yes, I went there). Elba is perfectly serviceable as the tortured hero, but there’s so many dimensions to the character that had to be left on the cutting room floor. McConaughey is perfectly cast as MiB. His ambivalence towards evil and destruction almost comes off as a charm. However, this is never explained to the audience. Anyone watching this villainous performance may just think he’s sleepwalking through the role, when he actually matches the character quite well.
The Dark Tower is a completely flawed, yet enjoyable set up movie that feels wasted. The director, Nikolaj Arcel, clearly has love for all things King, which is seen through scattered easter eggs in the movie. You can sense that he was attempting to tell the story through a human anchor (Jake) and may have possibly explained the complicated mythology in a way that beginners could understand. However, it has been reported that the two studios involved in production had 100% veto rights (to scenes, marketing, etc). This is apparent in obvious reshoots and quick dreams that felt like they were originally character-establishing scenes.
It’s depressing that a 95 minute (with credits) fantasy epic doesn’t feel like a concise story, but instead feels messy and lacking in emotion. It’s my prayer that Arcel has a 2 & 1/2 hour Director’s Cut that may someday see a Blu-Ray release. There are plans to create a TV series based on Wizard and Glass (Roland’s backstory), but I can’t help but think that this movie would have benefitted from being spread out over 10 episodes on HBO.
I will be watching this one again, but I can’t recommend The Dark Tower as a theater experience. It’ll be a fine rental, especially if there’s an extended cut. I’m optimistic of the potential of the series going forward, but can’t help but think we’ve been robbed by the studios of some original world-building. C+
Kathryn Bigelow’s name is synonymous with quality at this point in her career. Her recent directorial career has her taking on reality-based events like The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty. Detroit continues that trend and highlights a terrible time in American history in a way that she has a specialty for.
In the tumultuous year of 1967, there was a clear line between cops and the residents of Detroit. The never-ending circle of police brutality, followed by race riots and so on, created a warzone in the city. In the middle of this tumult was the incident that took place at the Algiers Hotel, where several men and women were held captive by entirely corrupt racist cops.
A large portion of Detroit is played out as a horror film. The first act introduces us to the main characters as they navigate this urban battlefield and does it with a tension that doesn’t let up. There are a number of characters that make this work. It gives them time to develop, so that when this does become a nightmare, you can’t help but feel sick for these specific people, outside of the general depravity that took place.
The ensemble cast is so strong, that some of the bigger names are overshadowed. Two standout roles are Jacob Latimore and Algee Smith. They play two friends who are just staying in the hotel to wait the night out and stay away from the danger outside. Sadly, the danger comes right to them. Will Poulter plays a role that often ventures into gimmicky territory, but he still gives it a layered performance.
The majority of the movie feels like a bottle episode of a TV show (not entirely a bad thing). It takes place largely within the hallway at the Algiers and manages to stretch out the humiliation, torment and even murder that took place. This is where you feel like you’re watching a certified horror movie.
The tension and anger flares up so strongly, that anything less feels like meandering. The final 30 minutes turns into a courtroom drama, and it’s not all that compelling. Bigelow knows how to deliver intensity, but the moments of quiet drama fall a bit flat.
I won’t ever watch this again, but Detroit is a politically-charged drama that is sure to be recognized come awards season. It’s a high-quality thriller that will make you sick of man’s inhumanity to man. B