Hancock (2008) dir. Peter Berg
Starring: Will Smith, Charlize Theron, Jason Bateman, Eddie Marsan
On DVD arrives “Hancock” a film no one seemed to like (a 38% rating on Rotten Tomatoes) yet grossed $227million dollars. It was born from one of those legendary specs scripts which floated around Hollywood for years. The Peter Berg version has an intriguing set-up, but a number of great ideas gone unrealized.
Will Smith plays Hancock, a drunken superhero, who literally lives in a ‘van down by the river’. Though he flies around saving the citizens of L.A. from petty crimes, lately his crass attitude, drunkenness and careless behaviour has turned the public against him. When he saves the life of a well-meaning publicist, Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman) a friendship develops which will change Hancock’s life for good and bad.
Ray starts improving his attitude and learning the ropes of being decent, trustworthy and reliable. As he ingratiates himself with Ray’s family he becomes closer to Ray’s wife Mary (Charlize Theron), which reveals secrets of his past and his ultimate destiny.
A clever twist on the superhero genre is established – an affable hero, lost with no direction. His relationship with Ray is introduced and plays well. Berg primes us for a classic cinematic redemption of sorts, but midway Charlize Theron’s character takes the film on a wild turn in a new direction. It’s a massive coincidental plot twist, which throws all the groundwork of the previous act out the window. As the background of Hancock comes to light Ray instantly becomes inconsequential and unnecessary to the story. Berg tries to juggle two relationships (Hancock-Ray and Hancock-Mary) and so failing at both drowns the film.
Hancock’s villain, Red Parker, is also sorely underwritten. His story is hastily put together in the second half of the film to provide some external conflict for Hancock. Unfortunately, he’s just some criminal schmuck who poses no threat to our hero whatsoever. Eddie Marsan plays Red, he’s a great actor (see his great performance in “Happy Go Lucky”) but as for a villain to play off Will Smith, he’s out of his league.
Ultimately the film is let down by Peter Berg’s show-off direction. He paints lovely pictures but he appears to be channeling some kind of early-career-Michael Bay fixation. Every scene is shot in the sundrenched deep yellow L.A. magic hour and cut with the manic intensity of Bay’s “The Rock”. Unnecessary handheld camera appears to create drama where there is no drama. It’s all artifice and distracting.
I’m convinced “Hancock” could have worked with a more focused director. Berg’s previous film “The Kingdom” makes a good comparison with “Hancock”. Berg seems to get distracted with crafting his individual scenes instead of creating a unifying whole of a film. “The Kingdom” meandered wildly with a different tone to every scene. “Hancock” suffers from the same ailments.
"Hancock" is available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment