Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Cross

Genre: Drama with a touch of sci-fiPremise: In an undisclosed future, one man will try anything to “cross” a border that cannot be crossed.
About: To star Orlando Bloom, John Goodman, and Olga Kurylenko (Quantum Of Solace), this is a project Andrew Niccol has been wanting to shoot forever, even as early back as the 90s. Early drafts under a different title (“River Road”) did not garner a positive response. It is only with his most recent draft, the draft I’m assuming is the one that succeeds this one, that he secured Orlando Bloom. The movie became a go film last month as a result of Bloom’s involvement.
Writer: Andrew Niccol
Details: 117 pages - 2007 draft.

What?? An original review?? No guest review today? I guess I'm losing my touch.

Andrew Niccol (Gattaca) and Orlando Bloom (Pirates Of The Carribean, Lord Of The Rings) are at similar places in their careers. Both started out as shining stars, exploding onto the Hollywood scene as golden boys who would surely have Tinseltown eating out of their mittens for years to come. But they quickly learned that this city has a two-strikes-your-out clause, and companion duds from both actor and director shifted them from the A-List to the B-List. In order to stay clear of Kathy Griffin territory, they both needed a hit, so they decided to put their careers in each other’s hands and are praying for redemption in “The Cross.”

For a little background, I thought Gattaca was pretty badass. It was a teensy-bit too dark in places, but it was a unique voice in a sea of foghorns that blasted the same throbbing whine. The Truman Show was probably overrated as it came out at the peak of Jim Carrey’s box office domination. The movie was okay, but I don’t remember much about it other than Carrey overacting. Then came Niccol’s directing efforts. Even in the most generous light, Simone and Lord Of War were dry and flaky with deep shadows under their eyes. To Niccol’s credit, I don’t know many productions that can survive a modern-day Al Pacino performance.

As for Orlando, the jury may still be out, but we can hear them finishing up in the other room. True Bloom is coming off one of the most successful franchises of all time, but you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone who thinks he's anything more than the fourth most memorable character in the films. Crossing into lead territory yielded dreary efforts like Elizabethtown and Kingdom Of Heaven. Bloom was tagged with the “boring” label and it’s hard for me to disagree. Every time he came onscreen I wanted to pull up the covers and take a cat nap. He’s definitely got face. And Peter Jackson found some sparkle in those eyes as Legolas, but if The Cross doesn’t work, Bloom just might turn into Gloom.

Mylar is a former engineer in a future racked by war and disease. The particulars of how this came about are not disclosed. All we know is shit is bad and it’s supposedly better in the country to the north. So it’s fitting the story takes place in a border town where the patrolling guards make those Shawshank pussies look like bus boys at a four star hotel. Heading up the border’s toughest patrol unit is August Gideon, a man who lives for only one thing: to patrol the border. Gideon is so naughty that if he catches you trying to cross, he doesn’t kill you. He makes you eat an entire bucket of dirt. If you try a second time? He makes you eat two. Third time? He’ll make you eat three buckets. Thing is, nobody’s ever made it past two. Well, not yet anyway.

There seems to be a clear understanding in this town. People *will* try to cross the border. The crossers know that. The guards know that. The spoils of freedom in the neighboring country are too great not to give it a shot. Except that outside of a few rumors, it doesn’t appear that anyone’s successfully been able to cross the border. It’s too damn difficult.

Enter Mylar.

There’s no question that Niccol’s spent a few dozen nights watching Cool Hand Luke. This is no doubt a dark futuristic version of the 1967 classic. There is a secret group of men who meet weekly, discussing plots and plans to get across the border. But they never actually do anything about it. Mylar is less a talker and more a doer. The fearless daredevil keeps trying to cross, despite the ridiculous odds, and just like Paul Newman, he keeps getting caught. Each attempt is more dangerous than the last because, as Niccol explains to us, eating buckets of dirt mutilates your insides.

While there are many characters in the script, this is really a mano-a-mano battle between Mylar and Gideon. There’s an enjoyment in the chess match the two play against each other and their scenes are definitely where the script shines.

There are other things that work as well. The story directive is clear as day: Cross the border. We're talking about a prison break movie here. He’s going to try to "get out," and we’re wondering if he’ll be able to do it. The dark tone adds a needed element of uncertainty. This is the kind of film where there’s just as much of a chance that he *won’t* as he will. So we’re definitely on edge.

In addition, we’re also wondering what’s on the other side. What is it that’s so great about this neighboring country? Would it be everything they thought it would be? And will this shed some light on the country they’re in, how they got here? What year it is? It’s fun trying to piece together these answers from the crumbs Niccol leaves us.

On the downside, the story is almost too simple. It’s a man trying to get across a border. And while there are some unexpected developments along the way, there’s definitely a monotony to the script. I guess you could make the same argument about Shawshank, but that movie had two of the most memorable characters in cinema history to fall back on. Mylar is interesting, but he’s not *that* interesting.

Also, it doesn’t seem like Niccol’s nearly as interested in giving answers as I am in asking for them. I guess I can respect him focusing more on the micro than the macro here, but it would’ve been fun to have some little twist at the end, some shocking revelation of where we are (the United States maybe?) and how we ended up here. For these reasons, I finished this script a little disappointed.

I think the key to this film is going to be Mylar and Gideon. If we keep the focus on them, on their chess match, the movie will be fun. I’m not saying the secondary characters aren’t interesting, they just didn’t measure up to the duel between the leads. The Cross is a solid script, but I wanted more.

[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[xx] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: Niccol shows how to secure a star. There’s no doubt that this is the kind of character actors love to play. The setting is dark, which implies their efforts will be taken seriously. The character is both charming and fearless. His conviction to get across the border is unequaled. Being charming and brave, yet with an added layer of complexity? Is that not the guy all of us wish we could be? Remember, the number one way to get your script into the production pipeline is to secure a star. So you need to be thinking about creating a protagonist or antagonist (preferably both) that A-List actors want to play. Had Niccol’s last film not done so poorly, he easily would’ve secured an A-lister here. Bloom may have been Plan-B-List, but it was enough to secure funding and make the film.