From the opening frames we get a steady diet of tepid action (the worst kind), the ensuing plot holes filled in with muddled intrigue and long, deep stares into the dangerous night. Director Marc Forster (whom I greatly admire) brings nothing new to the table, except for a few moments where the editing (match cuts no less!) takes your breath away. Aside from the brilliant Opera Scene, where Bond’s killing gets drained of sound and juxtaposed with the parallel stage performance, Quantum of Solace could have been any other Bourne rip off, not the James Bond event we long for every few years. Quantum of Solace is a step backward from Martin Campbell’s rejuvenating Casino Royale, but it wouldn’t be the first time this name brand has moonwalked to the bank.
Marc Forster’s well meaning but flawed adaptation of the best selling novel by Khaled Hossieni goes for the emotional jugular, taking this tragic story of lost innocence and forgotten honor framed by 20 years of turbulent Afghan history and tying it into together with a nice, sentimental ribbon. I’m a fan of Marc Forster’s earlier pictures, especially Finding Neverland and Stranger Than Fiction. But those films walk a fine line between sugary sap and honest sentiment, whereas The Kite Runner doesn’t concern itself with such balance. Almost every scene contains crescendos of music, blatant audio flashbacks, and teary-eyed close-ups, all guiding the viewer by the hand toward an easy, Hollywood ending. Its all supposed to add up to something “important”, paralleling the guilt-ridden conscience of one man with that of a country lost to religious fanaticism. Instead, The Kite Runner stumbles over its good intentions and doesn’t explore the psychological facets of this fascinating and complicated story.
Sitting there watching Marc Forster’s wondrous Stranger Than Fiction, I turned to the stunning beauty next to me and I saw a smile, a genuine face of delight at the seamless mixture of comedy, intelligence, and joy she was seeing. How often can we say a movie makes us glad we’re alive, realizing the subtle nuances of our own existence as crucial to personal happiness. I’d venture to say not that often. The glory of Stanger Than Fiction stems from our challenging the notion that only modern day violence, death, and destruction exemplify good cinematic art. I looked at all the films I’ve liked this year and more often than not they deal with extreme instances of death and destruction. I saw the sadness in this fact, and it made Stranger Than Fiction, a film of extreme warmth, that much more important to me. The story of IRS Agent Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) whose simple and dull life gets uprooted by a voice he begins to hear, one that narrates his every move succinctly and “with a better vocabulary” than himself, as if he was a character in a piece of fiction. The voice belongs to Karen Eiffel (Emma Thompson), a famous novelist who has been stuck on trying to kill her main character…Harold Crick, for a long time. So Harold knows he’s going to die, and Karen, unknowing her main character is real, thinks mighty hard how to kill him off within the context of her story. Dustin Hoffman plays an English professor who helps Harold attempt to find out more about his situation. Quite a setup indeed, and Forster and screenwriter Zach Helm enable the characters to briskly maneuver the poetic but realistic terrain of the cityscape, often cloudy, rainy, and gloomy, but never ominous. Harold’s journey takes poignant turns, the best involving a baker (Maggie Gyllenhaal in her best role) who he is auditing. Above all, Stranger Than Fiction removes the the need to “destroy” within the narrative, replacing this device with a unique riff on healing, the joys one can obtain from helping others, and the complicated moments of human development modern films often solve with violence. We need more films like Stranger Than Fiction, because much like Forster’s earlier masterpiece Finding Neverland, his latest effort dares the viewer to be emotionally connected with his characters, not out of spite, or hatred, or jealousy, but through kindness and empathy.